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The Question of 

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The Question of 

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Copyright, 1945, by 


First Printing 


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, Introduction ix 

Acknowledgment xvii 

Biographical Note xxi 

Thomas Wentworth Higginson 

Henry James, Jr. i 

William Dean Howells X 

Mr. Henry James's Later Work 6 

Frank Moore Colby 

In Darkest James 20 

Herbert Croly 

Henry James and His Countrymen 28 

Max Beerbohm 

The Mote in the Middle Distance 40 

Joseph Conrad 

The Historian of Fine Consciences 44 

Ford Madox Ford 

The Old Man 47 

Percy Lubbock 

The Mind of an Artist c 4 

Stuart P. Sherman 

The Aesthetic Idealism of Henry James 70 



Joseph Warren Beach 

The Figure in the Carpet 92 

Thomas Beer 

Henry James and Stephen Crane 105 

T. S. Eliot 

On Henry James 108 

Van Wyck Brooks 

Two Phases of Henry James 120 

Vernon Louis Parrington 

Henry James and the Nostalgia of Culture 128 

Edna Kenton 

Henry James in the World 131 

Constance Rourke 

The American 138 

' Edmund Wilson 

The Ambiguity of Henry James 160 

* R. P. Blackmur 

In the Country of the Blue . 191 

Morton D. Zabel 

The Poetics of Henry James 212 

F. O. Matthiessen 

The Ambassadors 218 

Stephen Spender 

The Golden Bowl 236 

W. H. Auden 

. At the Grave of Henry James 246 

. ' [vi] 


Andre Gide 

Henry James 251 

Jacques Barzun 

Henry James, Melodramatist 254 

William Troy 

The Altar of Henry James i6j 

Philip Rahv 

Attitudes Toward Henry James 273 

Bibliography 281 

Index of James Characters and Titles 299 


< r^ 


ALTHOUGH Henry James died in 191 6, the worth of his art 
JTa. is still in question, and the question can still cause high 
temperatures among his critics. On hearing that the present 
volume was being planned, a well-known American novelist 
wrote the editor: "Now more than ever I believe that the H. J. 
boom is the gravest thing that has happened to our U.S. culture 
in our time." On the other hand a respected periodical lately 
devoted an entire issue to appreciative studies of James's work — 
it was the fourth such symposium on him since his death. Obvi- 
ously Henry James is not an author whom it is easy to take or 

So from the 1860's to the present, numerous writers — poets 
and novelists as well as professional critics — have needed to say 
their say about him. In trying to say it, moreover, they have 
felc obliged to explore a variety of critical approaches — textual, 
historical, psychological, metaphysical, etc. — and a variety of 
manners ranging from solemnity to parody. Even readers who 
will not allow much virtue to James himself will have to admit 
he was the cause it was abundantly present in his critics. Some 
of the essays in this volume illustrate various aspects of the 
James'an controversy; others simply aim at expounding his 
work from a position outside the battle. They are all, it is hoped, 
significant examples of modern criticism faced with a peculiarly 
intricate and engrossing subject. 

The question of Henry James brings into play acute convic- 
tions on very lively subjects and is therefore of greater density 
and wider consequence than most readers may believe. This 
introduction- will try to expose briefly some of the more fre- 
quent causes of disagreement; but since the causes are in James 
as well as in his critics, the introduction will have to approach 



James with certain assumptions of its own. And, although the 
question is really all one, it will have to be broken down into 
more or less distinct items. The danger is that James, whose 
genius is problematical largely for the very reason that it is such 
a living tissue of contradictions, will emerge from this treatment 
resembling an efficient department store. 

First of all, then, there is an aesthetic question. An "ad- 
vanced" writer, at any rate in his later work, James shares some 
of the attitudes behind that kind of writing and stirs up some 
of the familiar arguments as to its merits. Like Joyce, Yeats, 
Eliot, and others, he seems to have believed that the traditional 
rights of the creative imagination were infringed upon by the 
empirical spirit of our scientific culture. And like them, too, 
James appropriated to the imagination, conceived in its classical 
role as the organizer and intensifier of life, those features of 
empiricism which stress the importance of concrete experience 
and the value of method. He thoroughly respected the power 
of nineteenth-century fiction to register "the life of the times'* 
in well-documented writing. To him, however, documentation 
meant not the assembling of masses of data but the intensive 
scrutiny and careful deployment of a few. A kind of visionary 
of the small fact, he compels a maximum of meaning from a 
minimum of evidence. And in proportion as he stylizes the ma- 
terials of experience, he elaborates the form of his work. In a 
James novel the style, the dialogue, the imagery, the symbolism, 
the various narrative devices, all constitute nigh pressures under 
which, to the extent that he is successful, the minutiae of life 
and sensibility are transformed into great witnesses. Above all, 
perhaps, his work is a triumph of the word — to the extent, 
again, that it is a triumph at all. Although he brings us many 
of the regular delights of fiction, such as humor, notable char- 
acters, and keen psychological observations, it is probably just 
to remark that his imagination asserts itself primarily through 
a profound analytical sense of language and an exceptional 
power to employ it dramatically. 

It is at this point that the disagreements begin. By some 
readers the novels arc declared insubstantial, deficient in life, 
and therefore devoid of the usual satisfactions of novels. Some- 



times James is charged with sacrificing substance to an undue 
concern for the niceties of form; again it is said that he simply 
knew too little of the world to be able to invent anything but 
shadowy characters entangled in farfetched situations. The most 
famous attack on James from this point of view is probably the 
passage in H. G. Wells's Boon, the Mind of the Race, which 
compares the James novel to a church, brilliantly lighted but 
quite empty of people, every line of which leads to the high 
altar whereon "very reverently placed, intensely there, is a dead 
kitten, an egg-shell, a piece of string." Wells's epigram summed 
up the objections to James of a whole generation of realists, Brit- 
ish and American. It continues to reverberate. 

But among Wells's contemporaries were other writers — Con- 
rad, Ford Madox Ford, Percy Lubbock — whose appreciation of 
James's art was profound. For them his researches in form were 
an integral feature of his genius; and they did not hesitate, if 
they were novelists, to take over certain of his innovations; or 
if they were critics, to adopt his theories as their own. The whole 
period in England was one of experiment in novel writing; and 
James's literary principles, as embodied in his novels and stories 
and explained in the prefaces to the New York Edition of his 
work, helped to stimulate some very good books on the poetics 
of the novel and inspired even in those who disagreed an atten- 
tion which at that time they seldom received in America. 

Until recently, and with some notable exceptions, American 
critics have been rather incurious as to James's art, preferring 
to investigate his relation to his native country. That relation 
makes up another large item in the Jamesian controversy, for 
reasons that have to do with the complexion of American 
thought on American writing. Usually a revolutionary country 
in its literary image of itself, the United States has been slow 
to embrace any multitradition system in literature to match 
the admirable multiparty arrangement that prevails in its po- 
litical life. Those who accept, say, Mark Twain and Walt Whit- 
man as types of the American writer are apt to disparage or even 
read out of the national literature writers whose sense of America 
is more complex — for example, T. S. Eliot and Henry James. 
In James's case the excommunication was actually attempted, 



and not by some insignificant fanatic but by Vernon Louis 
Parrington. And although Van Wyck Brooks allows James great 
importance, it is the symbolic importance of an American who 
left his country and so failed as an artist. In America, therefore, 
James criticism often veils a dispute between those who want to 
keep our literary image comparatively simple, comparatively 
faithful to our democratic professions, and those who believe it 
is improved by the sort of complication that comes from recog- 
nizing in our society as it exists deep contradictions and broad 
areas of faulty practice. 

In the criticism of James considered as an American, one 
important strain is occupied with the causes and effects of his 
residence in Europe. The question here is whether his expatria- 
tion cut him off from certain vital influences and so deformed 
his mind and work; or whether, by placing him among circum- 
stances more favorable to his temperament, it helped him to 
become a great international artist. But there are many critics 
for whom James's Americanism is a question not of the condi- 
tions of his life but of the character of his work as its stands. 
The serious critics who find the work completely foreign to 
American traditions arc very few. For most of them, from his 
contemporary W. D. Howells on, the study of James is a family 
drama culminating in a recognition scene wherein the supposed 
stranger reveals himself as the lost Orestes or the prodigal son. 
In other words, the aristocratic and worldly James turns out to 
be a continuator of the severe ethics of New England. The 
temptations of Europe have only exaggerated his inherited pas- 
sion for fine scruples and heroic renunciations. In the name of 
American righteousness, his candid heroines even think to con- 
quer the world. 

In The American Scene James spoke of "the great adventure 
of a society reaching out into the apparent void for the ameni- 
ties, the consummations, after having earnestly gathered in so 
many- of the preparations and necessities." The society was that 
of the United States at the time of what James believed to be its 
emergence from a relatively crude pioneering stage into a stage 
where leisure, enjoyment, and reflection might become more 
immediate realities. Philip Rahv, one of the most original of 



James's recent critics, has suggested that the whole Jamesian 
question can be better understood if we see him as the artist of 
that "great adventure," at once the exponent and the expression 
of America's cu.-tural aspirations, with all the hope and doubt, 
the alternating arrogance and humility, that attended them. 
For James "culture" is certainly a complex and problematical / 
value, as it is in those ancient myths where culture is experience, \ 
experience is knowledge, and knowledge is loss of innocence. In 
his novels the innocent people, who arc usually Americans, arc 
confronted with the possibilities for good and evil in a life of 
superior cultivation and worldly enjoyment; while the worldly 
people, who are usually Europeans or Europcanized Americans, 
arc acted upon, changed, sometimes even destroyed, by the sin- 
gular power of innocence. James's sense of the equivocal nature 
of culture, his tendency to identify it with something at once 
inviting and menacing, is illustrated by the divisions of The 
'Portrait of a Lady: in the first half the American heroine's 
European visit is an agreeable experience full of lessons in taste 
and manners; in the second half she becomes so embroiled in the 
evils of Europe that her journey there has become a trip to Hell. 
And so thoroughly did the drama of conscience and culture, 
innocence and experience, possess James's imagination that it. 
continued to be latent in certain of his novels where the settings j 
and the characters were entirely non-American. 

Compared with the epic subjects to which, it is sometimes 
assumed, James might have helped himself in the new and chal- 
lenging America of his day, this theme has sometimes been de- 
clared trivial in itself. It has proved easy for some of James's 
readers to overlook the multiple implications culture had for 
him and So to assume he was simply a pedant and a snob. In 
the main, however, it was his management of the theme that 
proved most controversial. In his famous creation, the interna- 
tional novel, he involved Europe and America, Europeans and 
Americans, in an elaborate pattern of moral and cultural an- 
tinomies, a myth of his own making. No matter how delicately 
it was conceived or how conscientiously it was varied from novel 
to novel, the pattern could not but bring into play the national 
loyalties of readers, as well as their sense of historical fact. He 



often portrayed Americans as innocent in the unfavorable as 
well as the favorable sense, assuming on their part an ignorance 
of the world and a deprivation of essential experience which were 
counter to their prevailing assumptions about themselves. And 
from the European point of view James could be suspected of a 
certain ethical chauvinism which consisted in allowing Europe 
glamor but denying her the higher conscience. 

Yet there have always been reader:; for whom James's inter- 
national fables required no apology. If their treatment of history 
was sometimes arbitrary, that was altogether justified by their 
wealth of finely observed detail; by their essential insight into 
national characteristics; by the way they ministered to the ex- 
citement we feel, in an age of exasperated nationalism, at con- 
templating nuances in the texture of life from country to coun- 
try; by the very transatlantic scope of their vision, unique in 
the history of the novel. And then, the more deeply the novels 
are studied the more they are seen to secrete ironies within 
ironies, in respect to nationalities as well as to everything else. 
For example, two recent students of The Golden Bowl, Louise 
Bogan and Ferner Nuhn, arrive at such different conclusions as 
to the relative merits of the Europeans and the Americans in 
this novel, that one wonders if they have consulted the same 
text. To Nuhn the book is proof of Van Wyck Brooks's old 
contention that for James Europe remained "a fairy tale to the 
end"; to Miss Bogan it is a work of "stern, prodigious human 
facts" concerning not only Europeans and Americans, but also 
personality in general. It is * ossible that we have still not come 
to the core of James's meaning; and that time, in addition to 
revealing much else about him, will show his international theme 
to have the same value — no more and no less — that Italian poli- 
tics have in the total vision of Dante. 

But what kind of prophet of experience does James make, 
finicking as he admittedly was about sex? Needless to say, this 
particular Jamesian question seems not to have troubled his 
older contemporaries, for whom he was daring enough for any 
good purpose. But owing to the changed sexual values of recent 
years, James's reticence is often declared to be at odds, not only 
with the easy naturalism of the average novel, but also with his 



own frequent commands to "Live, live." Stephen Spender and 
Edmund Wilson are among the critics who have written at 
length on this subject; and Spender, for all his admiration, even 
charges James with a peculiar sexual vulgarity. "In the early 
novels and stories, with the exception of The Princess Casct- 
mass/ma, wherever James approaches the physical side of life he 
seems to draw on his gloves, and his nouns draw on their in- 
verted commas. When his subject is sex, he sheers away from it 
by reducing it to a formality, and if one tries to imagine his 
characters physically, one feels that one is lifting a veil which 
conceals something repulsive. Here the vulgarity lies in the 
tastelessness of what is artificial when a comparison is forced 
with what is natural." What Spender is deploring in James is 
not of course the absence of an ardent — Freudian naturalism 
like his own — for such an expectation would be counter to 
the whole ethical tendency of James's mind — but a failure to 
dramatize passion in such a way that when his characters re- 
nounce it they strike us as renouncing something real. But 
Spender goes on to say that in the later books the sexual inhibi- 
tion works itself out in half-conscious fantasies and images of 
violence, which are very beautiful and meaningful if inter- 
preted on the plane of symbolism. In all this Spender is follow- 
ing the lead of Edmund Wilson and Edna Kenton in their 
Freudian studies of the novels, particularly The Turn of the 

In regard to social questions, insofar as these are distinct from 
what has already been discussed, James is again full of difficulties 
for his readers. From a democratic standpoint, what are we to 
think of novels in which, as it is generally agreed, the rich and 
the wellborn are the center of interest while the poor and de- 
classed exist solely in relation to them — on the whole, a not very 
flattering relation of acute curiosity, conscientious dependency, 
or active yearning? For in James wealth seems to be a definite 
value, though shot through with possible evils, while poverty 
and labor (the labors of the artist excepted) are frankly limbos 
of dreariness.' On this evidence many critics have deplored the 
novels as snobbishly false. But there has been another strain in 
criticism — it is rather recent — which has found him worthy of 



highly sympathetic analysis in the light of modern political the- 
ory. And strangely enough, James the supposed aristocrat ov/es 
to socialist and near-socialist critics like Edmund Wilson, Robert 
Cantwell, Stephen Spender, Newton Arvin, and F. O. Matthies- 
sen some of the most careful and appreciative comment he has 
ever received. Again it is a question of whether we take him 
literally or symbolically, as an exponent or as a witness. Like 
other modern critics, they discourage any reading of James that 
takes a part of his efTect for the whole. Their interpretation 
allows for the presence in his work, at least intermittently, of a 
realistic social insight; an insight which, because it came to him 
by virtue not of theory but of patient and anxious observation, 
is never simply assumed or stated in his work but is revealed 
through the most reticent suggestions and involved ironies. Ac- 
cording to this view, then, James's fascination with a baronial 
state of society was a very condition of his literary existence. To 
it he owed whatever was tiresome or objectionable in his limited 
range and occasional heavy fumbling after social truths which 
are obvious to others; but it also contributed to that character- 
istic irony, that efTect of a world of confused splendor and 
terror, of a bright jungle concealing a dim beast, which those 
who admire him find so exciting and prophetic in his work. In 
other words, he could so warmly reject the principle of acquisi- 
tion because he had so passionately suffered its temptations; and 
indeed he is simply a special instance of that Machiavellian strain 
without which the novel of modern society would lack experi- 
ential power and so be a mere sermon. 

F. W. Dupee 



In general the essays in this book are printed in chronological 
order. That arrangement has been abandoned in a few instances 
where a more interesting order suggested itself. So F. O. Mat- 
thiesseh's essay on The Ambassadors (1944) is paired with 
Stephen Spender's on The Golden Bond (1936) as a kindred 
example of the close study of single important novels. And 
Philip Rahv's "Attitudes Toward Henry James" (1943) is put 
last because, as a summary of the James question, it seemed to 
belong there. A number of well-known pieces had to be left out 
either because they were too long or because, as in the case of 
H. G. Wells's satire in Boon: The Mind of the Race, The Wild 
Asses of the Devil, and The Last Trun;p y the author's permis- 
sion to reprint could not be obtained. With the exception of 
Conrad's essay, the contributions are unabridged, although, in 
a few cases, the authors have made minor alterations in their 

The chapter on The Golden Boivl from The Destructive Ele- 
ment by Stephen Spender is reprinted by permission of the pub- 
lishers, Jonathan Cape Limited, London. It was published in the 
United States by Houghton Mifflin Company. "In Darkest 
James" from Imaginary Obligations by Frank Moore Colby is 
reprinted by permission of Dodd, Mead and Co., Inc. The editor 
has supplied the title "Historian of Fine Consciences" for the 
excerpt from Notes on Life and Letters by Joseph Conrad, 
Copyright 1921, by Doubleday, Doran and Co., Inc., and the 
title "Two Phases of Henry James" for the excerpt from The 
'Pilgrimage of Henry fames by Van Wyck Brooks, published and 
copyright 1925, by E. P. Button & Co., Inc., New York. "The 
Mote in the Middle Distance" is reprinted from A Christmas 
Garland by Max Beerbohm, published by E. P. Dutton & Co., 



Inc., New York. "Henry James and the Nostalgia of Culture'* is 
reprinted from The Beginnings of Critical Realism in America 
(1860-1920) by Vernon L. Parrington, Copyright 1930, by Har- 
court, Brace and Company, Inc. "The American" is a chapter 
from American Humor by Constance Rourke, Copyright 193 1, 
by Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc. "The Ambiguity of 
Henry James" is reprinted from The Triple Thinkers by Edmund 
Wilson, Copyright 1938, by Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc. 
"The Aesthetic Idealism of Henry James" is from Contemporary 
Literature by Stuart Sherman, Copyright 1917, by Henry Holt 
and Company. The editor has given the title "Henry James and' 
Stephen Crane" to the short section from Stephen Crane: A 
Study in American Letters by Thomas Beer, which is reprinted 
by permission of and special arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, 
Inc., Copyright 1923, by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., and the title "The 
Old Man" to the excerpt from Return to Yesterday by Ford 
Madox Ford, which is reprinted by permission of Liveright Pub- 
lishing Corporation. "The Ambassadors" is reprinted from 
Henry James: The Major Phase by F. O. Matthicsscn by per- 
mission of Oxford University Press, New York. "At the Grave 
of Henry James" is from The Collected Poetry of W. H. Auden 
and is reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc. Percy 
Lubbock's Introduction to The Letters of Henry James is re- 
printed by permission of the publishers, Charles Scribner's Sons. 
"The Figure in the Carpet," a chapter from The Method of 
Henry James by Joseph Warren Beach, is reprinted by permis- 
sion of the publishers, Yale University Press. "Henry James, 
Jr." is' from Short Studies of American Authors by Thomas 
Wentworth Higginson, published in 1880 by Ticknor and 

"Henry James in the World" by Edna Kenton appeared in 
the April-May 1934 issue of the Hound &- Horn, and is re- 
printed by permission, of the publishers. "Attitudes Toward 
Henry James" by Philip Rahv and "The Altar of Henry James" 
by William Troy both appeared'in the February 15,1 943, issue of 
the New Republic, and are reprinted by permission of the pub- 
lishers. "Henry James and His Countrymen" by Herbert Croly 
appeared in the February 1904 issue of Lamp, and is reprinted 



by permission of Mrs. Louise Mary CroJy. "Mr. Henry James*s 
Later Work" by William Dean Howells appeared in the January 
1903 issue of the North American Rcvieiv. 

The editor wishes to thank the following authors who have 
given him permission to reprint their articles: Jacques Barzun, 
for "Henry James, Mclodramatist," and R. P. Blackmur, for 
"In the Country of the Blue," both of which appeared in the 
Autumn 1943 issue of the Kenyan Review; T. S. Eliot, whose 
essay on Henry James appeared in the August 191 8 issue of the 
Little Review; Andre Gidc, for "Henry James," which appeared 
in the March 1930 issue of the Yale Review; and Morton D. 
Zabel, for "The Poetics of Henry James," which was written 
not as an essay but as a book review for the February 1935 
issue of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. 

The quotation from The Art of the Novel by R. P. Blackmur 
is reprinted by permission of the publishers, Charles Scribner's 
Sons. The quotations from New England: Indian Summer and 
The Pilgrimage of Henry fames by Van Wyck Brooks are re- 
printed by permission of E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc. 

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following publishers 
for permission to use the quotations from the works of Henry 
James which appear within the articles in this collection: Harper 
and Brothers, for the quotations from The Ambassadors, The 
American Scene, The Death of the Lion, and An International 
Episode; Houghton Mifflin Company, for the quotations from 
The American, London Notes, The Portrait of a Lady, Rod- 
erick Hudson, The Spoils of Poynton, and The Tragic Muse; 
The Macmillan Company, Inc., for the quotations from The 
Lesson of 'the Master, from "The Next Time" and "The Figure 
in the Carpet" in Embarrassments, and from "The Turn of the 
Screw" in Two Magics; Charles Scribner's Sons, for the quota- 
tions from The Altar of the Dead, The Golden Bowl, Notes of 
a Son and Brother, The Sacred Fount, The Wings of the Dove, 
from the essays on D'Annunzio and George Sand in Notes on 
Novelists, and from "The Jolly Corner" and "The Private Life" 
in Novels and Tales. 


, * 

Biographical Note 

Henry James was born April 15, 1843, at 2 Washington Place, 
New York City. He was the son o£ Henry James, religious 
philosopher, and the brother of William James, the psychol- 
ogist and philosopher of pragmatism. Much of James's youth 
was spent in Europe, where he traveled with his family and at- 
tended various schools. After a brief residence in Newport, 
R. I., he attended Harvard Law School from 1862 to 1864. In 
the later sixties he began to publish reviews and stories. His 
first novel, Watch and Ward, appeared in the Atlantic Monthly 
in 1 871. In 1875 he went to live in Europe, first in Paris, then 
in England, where, except for three trips to the United States 
and frequent tours on the continent, he remained all his life. 
Roderick Hudson appeared in 1876, The American in 1877, 
Daisy Miller in 1879, an< ^ The Portrait of a Lady, his most im- 
portant novel so far, in 1881. In 1882 his father died and he 
returned briefly to the United States. The Bostonians and The 
Princess Casamassima were published in 1886, The Tragic Muse 
in 1890. For the next five years he tried, not very successfully, 
to write for the English theater. Terminations, containing im- 
portant short stories, appeared in 1896. In 1897 he moved from 
London to Lamb House, Rye, Sussex. The Spoils of Poynton and 
What Maisie Knciv were published in 1897, The Turn of the 
Screw in 1898, The Awkward Age in 1899, The Sacred Fount 
in 1 90 1, The Wings of the Dove in 1902, The Better Sort (short 
stories), The Ambassadors in 1903, and The Golden Bowl in 
1904. In 1904-05 he visited America and toured the country, 
gathering material for The American Scene, a book of impres- 
sions, which appeared in 1907. In the same year there appeared 
the first volumes of the New York Edition of his work, a selec- 
tion of his novels and stories, together with prefaces explaining 


Biographical Note 

his principles as an artist. In 1910 his brother William died and 
he paid his last visit to the United States. That same year he 
published a book of short narratives, The Finer Grain. In 191 3 
he published A Small Boy and Others, and in the following year 
Notes of a Son and Brother, both volumes of memoirs. In 191 5, 
during the World War, he became a naturalized British subject. 
On February 28, 1916* after repeated illnesses, he died in Lon- 
don. Two important posthumous novels, The Ivory Tower and 
The Se?ise of the 'Past, both fragments, appeared in 19 17. 


The Question of ' 

, rf 

Henry James, Jr.* 

WE are growing more cosmopolitan and varied, in these 
United States of America; and our authors are gaining 
much, if they are also losing a little, in respect to training. The 
early career of an American author used to be tolcrnbly fixed 
and olcnr, if limited; a college education, a few months in Eu- 
rope, a few years in some practical vocation, and then an en- 
trance into literature by some side door. In later times, the 
printing ofHce has sometimes been substituted for the college, 
and has given a new phase of literary character distinct from 
the other, but not less valuable. Mr. Henry James, Jr., belongs 
to neither of these classes; he may be said to have been trained 
in literature by literature itself, so early did he begin writing, 
and so incessantly* has he written. We perhaps miss in his writ- 
ings something of the method which the narrower classical nur- 
ture was supposed to give; we miss also the contact with the 
mass of mankind which comes through mere daily employment 
to the professional man, the businessman, the journalist. Mr. 
James has kept a little too good company; we do not find in his 
books that vigorous and breezy natural man whom Howells, 
with all his daintiness, can so easily depict in Colonel Ellison 
and the skipper of the Aroostook. Then Mr. James's life has 
been so far transatlantic that one hardly knows whether he 
would wish to be counted as an American writer, after all; so 
that his training, his point of view, his methods, all unite to 
place him in a class by himself. 

It is pleasant to see a man write, as he has always done, with 
abundant energy and seemingly from the mere love of writing. 


The Question of Henry James 

Yet it is impossible to deny that he has suffered from this very 
profusion. Much of his early wo^k affects one as being a sort of 
self- training, gained at the expense of his readers; each sheet, 
each story, has been hurried into print before the ink was dry, 
in order to test it on the public — a method singularly removed 
from the long and lonely self-criticism of Hawthorne. Even the 
later books of Mr. James, especially his travels and his essays, 
show something of this defect. What a quarry of admirable sug- 
gestions is, for instance, his essay on Balzac; but how prolix it is, 
what repetitions, what a want of condensation and method! The 
same is true, in a degree, of his papers on George Sand and Tur- 
genev, while other chapters in the same volume are scarcely 
more than sketches; the paper on the Theatre Francais hardly 
mentions Sarah Bernhardt, and indeed that on Turgenev says 
nothing of his masterpiece, Tcrrcs Viergcs. Through all these 
essays he shows delicacy, epigram, quickness of touch, penetra- 
tion, but he lacks symmetry of structure and steadiness of hand. 
We can trace in the same book, also, some of the author's lim- 
itations as an imaginative artist, since in criticizing others a man 
shows what is wanting in himself. When he says, for instance, 
that a monarchical society is "more available for the novelist 
than any other,*' he shows that he does not quite appreciate the 
strong point of republicanism, in that it develops real individu- 
ality in proportion as it diminishes conventional distinctions. 
The truth is that the modern novel has risen with the advance 
of democratic society, on the ruins of feudalism. Another defect 
is seen, from time to time, when in criticizing some well-known 
book, he misses its special points of excellence. Take, for in- 
stance, his remarks on that masterly and repulsive novel, 
Madame Bovary. To say of the author of that book that his 
"theory as a novelist, briefly expressed, is to begin at the out- 
side," seems almost whimsically unjust; there is not a character 
in modern fiction developed more essentially from within than 
that of this heroine; all her sins and sorrows are virtually pre- 
dicted in the first chapter; even Mr. James has to admit that it 
"could not have been otherwise" with her, thereby taking back 
his own general assertion. Then he says "everything in the book 
is ugly," whereas one of its salient points is -the beauty of the 

Thomas Wentworth Higginson 

natural descriptions in which its most painful incidents are 
framed. Finally, and this is the most puzzling misconception of 
all, Mr. James utterly fails to see the bearing of one of the piv- 
otal points of the narrative — an unfortunate surgical operation 
performed by the heroine's husband, a country doctor; he calls 
it an "artistic bravado," and treats it as a mere episode of 
doubtful value, when it is absolutely essential to the working 
out of the plot. The situation is this: Madame Bovary is being 
crushed to the earth by living in a social vacuum, with a stupid 
husband whom she despises and has already deceived — when 
suddenly this husband is presented to her eyes in a wholly new 
light, tliat of an unappreciated man of genius, who has by a 
single act won a place among the great surgeons of his time. All 
that is left undepraved in her nature is touched and roused by 
this; she will do anything, bear anything, for such a husband. 
The illusion lasts but a few days and is pitilessly torn away; the 
husband proves a mere vulgar, ignorant quack, even duller, 
emptier, more hopeless than she had dreamed. The reaction takes 
her instantly downward, and with that impulse she sinks to rise 
no more. The author himself tells us why he introduces the inci- 
dent; and it seems as if there must be something wanting, some 
defect of artistic sensibility, in any critic who misses a meaning 
so plain. Or else — which is more probable — it is another instance 
of that haste in literary workmanship which is one of Mr. 
James's besetting sins. 

It may be one result of this extreme rapidity of production 
that Mr. James uses certain catchwords so often as to furnish 
almost a shibboleth for his style; such words for instance as 
"brutal," "puerile," "immense." Another result is seen in his in- 
difference to careful local coloring, especially where the scene 
is laid in the United States. When he draws Americans in Europe 
he is at home; when he brings Europeans across the Atlantic he 
never seems quite sure of his ground, except in Newport, which 
is indeed the least American spot on this continent. He opens his 
The Europeans by exhibiting horsecars in the streets of Boston 
nearly ten years before their introduction, and his whole sketch 
of the Wentworth family gives a sense of vagueness. It is not 
difficult to catch a few unmistakable points, and portray a re- 


The Question of Henry James 

spectable elderly gentleman reading the Daily Advertiser; but 
all beyond this is indefinite, and when otherwise, sometimes gives- 
an utterly incorrect impression of the place and period de- 
scribed. The family portrayed has access to "the best society in 
Boston"; yet the daughter, twenty-three years old, has "never 
seen an artist/' though the picturesque figure of Allston had but 
lately disappeared from the streets, where Cheney, Staigg, and 
Eastman Johnson might be seen any day, with plenty of others 
less known. The household is perfectly amazed and over- 
whelmed at the sight of two foreigners, although there probably 
were more cultivated Europeans in Boston thirty years ago than 
now, having been drawn thither by the personal celebrity or 
popularity of Agassiz, Ticknor, Longfellow, Sumner, and Dr. 
Howe. The whole picture — though it is fair to remember that 
the author calls it a sketch only — seems more like a delineation 
of American society by Fortunio or Alexandre Dumas, fils, than 
like a portraiture by one to the manor born. The truth is that 
Mr. James's cosmopolitanism is after all limited; to be really cos- 
mopolitan a man must be at home even in his own country. 

There are no short stories in our recent literature, I think, 
which are so good as Mr. James's best — Madame de Mauves, for 
instance, and The Madonna of the Future. Even these sometimes 
lack condensation, but they have a thoroughly original grasp 
and fine delineations of character. It is a great step downward 
from these to the somewhat vulgar horrors contained in The Ro- 
mance of Certain Old Clothes. The author sometimes puts on a 
cynicism, which docs not go very deep, and the young lovers of 
his earlier tales had a disagreeable habit of swearing at young 
ladies and ordering them about. Yet he has kept himself very 
clear from the disagreeable qualities of the French fiction he 
loves; his books never actually leave a bad taste in one's mouth, 
as Charlotte Bronte said of the French, and indeed no one has 
touched with more delicate precision the vexed question of 
morality in art. He finely calls the longing after a moral ideal 
"this Southern slope of the mind," and says of the ethical ele- 
ment, "It is in reality simply a part of the richness of inspira- 
tion, it has nothing to do with the artistic process, and it has 
everything to do with the artistic effect." This is admirable; 


Thomas \Yentworth Higginson 

and it is a vindication of this attribute when we find that Mr. 
James's most successful social stories, An International Episode 
and Daisy Miller, have been written with distinct purpose and 
convey lessons. He has achieved no greater triumph than when 
in the last book he succeeds in holding our sympathy and even 
affection, after all, for the essential innocence and rectitude of 
the poor wayward girl whose follies he has so mercilessly por- 

It cannot be said that Mr. James has yet succeeded in produc- 
ing a satisfactory novel; as a clever woman has said, he should 
employ someone else to write the last few pages. However 
strong the characterizations, however skillful the plot, the reader 
is left discontented. If in this respect he seems behind Howells 
it must be remembered that James habitually deals with pro- 
founder emotions and is hence more liable to be overmastered. 
Longfellow says to himself in his Hyperion, "O thou poor 
authorling! Reach a little deeper into the human heart! Touch 
those strings, touch those deeper strings more boldly, or the 
notes shall die away like whispers, and no ear shall hear them 
save thine own." It is James rather than Howells who has heeded 
this counsel. The very disappointment which the world felt at 
the close of The American was in some sense a tribute to its 
power; the author had called up characters and situations which 
could not be cramped, at last, within the conventional limits of 
a stage ending. As a piece of character drawing the final irreso- 
lution of the hero was simply perfect; it seemed one of the cases 
where a romancer conjures up persons who are actually alive, 
and who insist on working out a destiny of their own, irrespec- 
tive of his wishes. To be thus conquered by one's own creation 
might seem one of those defeats that are greater than victories; 
yet it is the business of the novelist, after all, to keep his vis'on- 
ary people well in hand, and contrive that they shall have their 
own way and yet not spoil his climax. In life, as in The Ameri- 
can, the most complicated situations often settle themselves un- 
seen, and the most promising tragedies are cheated of their crisis. 
But it is not enough that literary art should be a true transcript 
from nature; for the very fact that it is a work of art implies 
that it must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. 


, * 


Mr. Henry James's Later Work 

[ 1903 ] 

IT has been Mr. James's lot from the beginning to be matter 
of unusually lively dispute among his readers. There are 
people who frankly say they can ot bear him, and then either 
honestly let him alone, or secretly hanker for him, and every 
now and then return to him, and try if they cannot like him, 
or cannot bear him a little better. These are his enemies, or may 
be called so for convenience' sake; but they are hardly to be 
considered his readers. Many of his readers, however, are also 
his enemies: they read him in a condition of hot insurrection 
against all that he says and is; they fiercely question his point 
of view, they object to the world that he scqs from it; they de- 
clare that there is no such world, or that, if there is, there ought 
not to be, and that he does not paint it truly. They would like 
to have the question out with him personally: such is their dif- 
ference of opinion that, to hear them talk, you would think 
they would like to have it out with him pugilistically. They 
would, to every appearance, like to beat also those who accept 
his point of view, believe in his world, and hold that he truly 
portrays it. Nothing but the prevailing sex of his enemies saves 
them, probably, from offering the readers who are not his ene- 
mies the violence to which their prevailing sex tempts them. 
You cannot, at least, palliate his demerits with them without 
becoming of the quality of his demerits, and identifying your- 
self with him in the whole measure of these. That is why, for 
one reason, I am going to make my consideration of his later 
work almost entirely a study of his merits, for I own that he has 


William Dean Howells 

his faults, and I would rather they remained his faults than be- 
came mine. 


The enmity to Mr. James's fiction among his readers is mostly 
feminine because the men who do not like him are not his 
readers. The men who do like him and are his readers are of a 
more feminine fineness, probably, in their perceptions and intui- 
tions, than those other men who do not read him, though of 
quite as unquestionable a manliness, I hope. I should like to dis- 
tinguish a little farther, and say that they are the sort of men 
whose opinions women peculiarly respect, and in whom they 
are interested quite as much as they are vexed to find them dif- 
fering so absolutely from themselves. 

The feminine enmity to Mr. James is of as old a date as his 
discovery of the Daisy Miller type of American girl, which gave 
continental offense among her sisters. It would be hard to say 
why that type gave such continental offense, unless it was be- 
cause it was held not honestly to have set down the traits which 
no one could but most potently and powerfully allow to be true. 
The strange thing was that these traits were the charming and 
honorable distinctions of American girlhood as it convinced 
Europe, in the early 1870's, of a civilization so spiritual that its 
innocent daughters could be not only without the knowledge 
but without the fear of evil. I am not going back, however, to 
that early feminine grievance, except to note that it seems to 
have been the first tangible grievance, though it was not the 
first grievance. I, with my gray hairs, can remember still earlier 
work of his whose repugnant fascination was such that women 
readers clung to it with the wild rejection which has in a meas- 
ure followed all his work at their hands.. 

It has been the curious fortune of this novelist, so supremely 
gifted in divining women and portraying them, that beyond 
any other great novelist (or little, for that matter) he has imag- 
ined few heroines acceptable to women. Even those martyr 
women who have stood by him in the long course of his trans- 
gressions, and maintained through thick and thin that he is by 
all odds the novelist whom they could best trust with the cause 


The Question of Henry James 

of woman in fiction, have liked his anti-heroines more — I mean, 
found them realer — than his heroines. I am not sure but I have 
liked them more myself, but that is because I always find larger 
play for my sympathies in the character which needs the reader's 
help than in that which is so perfect as to get on without it. If 
it were urged that women do not care for his heroines because 
there are none of them to care for, I should not blame them, still 
less should I blame him for giving them that ground for abhor- 
rence. I find myself diffident of heroines in fiction because I 
have never known one in life, of the real faultless kind; and 
heaven forbid I should ever yet know one. In Mr. James's novels 
I always feci safe from that sort, and it may be for this reason, 
among others, that I like to read his novels when they are new, 
and read them over and over again when they are old, or when 
they are no longer recent. 


At this point I hear from far within a voice bringing me to 
book about Milly Thcale in The Wings of the Dove, asking me, 
if there is not a heroine of the ideal make, and demanding what 
fault there is in her that renders her lovable. Lovable, I allow 
she is, dearly, tenderly, reverently lovable, but she has enough 
to make her so, besides being too good, too pure, too generous, 
too magnificently unselfish. It is not imaginable that her author 
should have been conscious of offering in her anything like an 
atonement to the offended divinity of American womanhood 
for Daisy Miller. But if it were imaginable the offended divinity 
ought to be sumptuously appeased, appeased to tears of grateful 
pardon such as I have not yet seen in its eyes. Milly Theale is 
as entirely American in the qualities which you can and cannot 
touch as Daisy Miller herself; and (I find myself urged to the 
risk of noting it) she is largely American in the same things. 
There is the same self-regardlessness, the same beauteous insub- 
ordination, the same mortal solution of the problem. Of course, 
it is all in another region, and the social levels are immensely 
parted. Yet Milly Theale is the superior of Daisy Miller less in 
her nature than in her conditions. 


William Dean Howells 

There is, in both, the same sublime unconsciousness of the 
material environment, the same sovereign indifference to the 
fiscal means of their emancipation to a more than mascu- 
line independence. The sense of what money can do for an 
American girl without her knowing it, is a "blind sense" in the 
character of Daisy, but in the character of Milly it has its eyes 
wide open. In that wonderful way of Mr. James's by which he 
imparts a fact without stating it, approaching it again and 
again, without actually coming in contact with it, we are made 
aware of the vast background of wealth from which Milly is 
projected upon our acquaintance. She is shown in a kind of 
breathless impatience with it, except as it is the stuff of doing 
willfully magnificent things, and committing colossal expenses 
without more anxiety than a prince might feel with the reve- 
nues of a kingdom behind him. The ideal American rich girl 
has never really been done before, and it is safe to say that she 
will never again be done with such exquisite appreciation. She 
is not of the new rich; an extinct New York ancestry darkles in 
the retrospect: something vaguely bourgeois, and yet with pres- 
ences and with lineaments of aristocratic distinction. They have 
made her masses of money for her, those intangible fathers, 
uncles, and grandfathers, and then, with her brothers and sis- 
ters, have all perished away from her, and left her alone in the 
world with nothing else. She is as convincingly imagined in her 
relation to them, as the daughter of an old New York family, 
as she is in her inherited riches. It is not the old New York fam- 
ily of the unfounded Knickerbocker tradition, but something 
as fully patrician, with a nimbus of social importance as unques- 
tioned as its money. Milly is not so much the flower of this local 
root as something finer yet: the perfume of it, the distilled and 
wandering fragrance. It would be hard to say in what her New 
Yorkishness lies, and Mr. James himself by no means says; only 
if you know New York at all, you have the unmistakable sense 
of it She is New Yorkish in the very essences that are least as- 
sociable with the superficial notion of New York: the intellec- 
tual refinement that comes of being born and bred in conditions 
of illimitable ease, of having had everything that one could wish 
to have, and the cultivatibn that seems to come of the mere 


The Question of Henry James 

ability to command it. If one will have an illustration of the 
final effect in Milly Theale, it may be that it can be suggested 
as a sort of a Bostonian quality, with the element of conscious 
worth eliminated, and purified as essentially of pedantry as of 
commerciality. The wonder is that Mr. James in his prolonged 
expatriation has been able to seize this lovely impalpability, and 
to impart the sense of it; and perhaps the true reading of the 
riddle is that such a nature, such a character is most appreciable 
in that .relief from the background which Europe gives all 
American character. . 


"But that is just what does not happen in the case of Mr. 
James's people. They are merged in the background so that you 
never can get behind them, and fairly feel and see them all 
round. Europe doesn't detach them; nothing does. 'There they 
are,' as he keeps making his people say in all his late books, when 
they are not calling one another dear lady, and dear man, and 
prodigious and magnificent, and of a vagueness or a richness, 
or a sympathy, or an opacity. No, he is of a tremendosity, but 
he worries me to death; he kills me; he really gives me a head- 
ache. He fascinates me, but I have no patience with him." 

"But, dear lady," for it was a weary woman who had inter- 
rupted the flow of my censure in these unmeasured terms, and 
whom her interlocutor— another of Mr. James's insistent words 
— began trying to flatter to her disadvantage, "a person of your 
insight must see that this is the conditional vice of all painting, 
its vital fiction. You cannot get behind the figures in any pic- 
ture. They are always merged in their background. And there 
you are!" 

"Yes, I know I am. But that is just where I don't want to be. 
I want figures that I can get behind." 

"Then you must go to some other shop — you must go to the 
shop of a sculptor." 

"Well, why isn't he a sculptor?" 

"Because he is a painter." 

"Oh, that's no reason. He ought to be a sculptor." 

"Then he couldn't give you the color, the light and shade, the 


William Dean Howells 

delicate nuances, the joy of the intimated fact, all that you de- 
light in him for. What was that you were saying the other day? 
That he was like Monticelli in some of his pastorals or picnics: 
a turmoil of presences which you could make anything, every- 
thing, nothing of as yen. happened to feci; something going on 
that you had glimpses of, or were allowed to guess at, but which 
you were rapturously dissatisfied with, any way." 

"Did I say that?'* my interlocutress — terrible word! — de- 
manded. "It was very good." 

"It was wonderfully good, I should not have named Monti- 
celli, exactly, because though he is of a vagueness that is painty, 
he is too much of a denseness. Mr. James does not trowel the 
colors on." 

"I see what you mean. Whom should you have named?" 

"I don't know. Monticelli will do in one way. He gives you 
a sense of people, of things undeniably, though not unmistak- 
ably, happening, and that is what Mr. James does." 

"Yes, he certainly does," and she sighed richly, as if she had 
been one of his people herself. "He does give you a sense." 

"He gives you a sense of a tremendous lot going on, for in- 
stance, in The Wings of the Dove, of things undeniably, though 
not unmistakably, happening. It is a great book." 

"It is, it is," she, sighed again. "It wore me to a thread." 

"And the people were as unmistakable as they were undeni- 
able: not Milly, alone, not Mrs. Stringham, as wonderfully of 
New England as Milly of New York; but all that terribly frank, 
terribly selfish, terribly shameless, terribly hard English gang." 

"Ah, Dcnsher wasn't really hard or really shameless, though 
he was willing — to please that unspeakable Kate Croy — to make 
love to Milly and marry her money so that when she died, they 
could live happy ever after — or at least comfortably. And you 
cannot say that Kate was frank. And Lord Mark really admired 
Milly. Or, anyway, he wanted to marry her. Do you think Kate 
took the money from Dcnsher at last and married Lord Mark?" 

"Why should you care?" 

"Oh, one oughtn't to care, of course, in reading Mr. James. 
But with anyone else, you would like to know who married 

The Question of Henry James 

who. It is all too wretched. Why should he want to picture 
such life?" 

"Perhaps because it exists." 

"Oh, do you think the English are really so bad? I'm glad 
he made such a beautiful character as Milly, American." 

"My notion is that he didn't 'make' any of the characters." 

"Of course not. And I suppose some people in England are 
actually like that. We have not got so far here, yet. To be sure, 
society is not so all-important here, yet. If it ever is, I suppose 
we shall pay the price. But do you think he ought to picture 
such life because it exists?" 

"Do you find yourself much the worse for The Whigs of the 
Dove?" I asked. "Or for The Sacred Fount? Or for The Awk- 
ward Age? Or even for What Maisie Knew? They all picture 
much the same sort of life." 

"Why, of course not. But it isn't so much what he says — he 
never says anything — but what he insinuates. I don't believe 
that is good for young girls." 

"But if they don't know what it means? I'll allow that it isn't 
quite jeune fille in its implications, all of them; but maturity 
has its modest claims. Even its immodest claims are not wholly 
ungrounded in the interest of a knowledge of our mother civili- 
zation, which is what Mr. James's insinuations impart, as I 
understand them." 

"Well, young people cannot read him aloud together. You 
can't deny that." 

"No, but elderly people can, and they are not to be ignored 
by the novelist, always. I fancy the reader who brings some 
knowledge of good and evil, without being the worse for it, to 
his work is the sort of reader Mr. James writes for. I can imagine 
him addressing himself to a circle of such readers as this Re- 
view's with a satisfaction, and a sense of liberation, which he 
might not feel in the following of the family magazines, and 
still not incriminate himself. I have heard a good deal said in 
reproach of the sort of life he portrays in his later books; but 
I have not found his people of darker deeds or murkier motives 
than the average in fiction. I don't say, life." 

"No, certainly, so far as he tells you. It is what he doesn't 


William Dean Howells 

tell that is so frightful. He leaves you to such awful conjectures. 
For instance, when Kate Croy — " 

"When Kate Croy— ?" 

"No. I won't discuss it. But you know what I mean; and I 
don't believe there ever was such a girl." 

"And you believe there was ever such a girl as Milly Theale?" 

"Hundreds! She is true to the life. So perfectly American. 
My husband and I read the story aloud together, and I wanted 
to weep. We had such a strange experience with that book. We 
read it half through together; then we got impatient, and tried 
to finish it alone. But we could not make anything of it apart; 
and we had to finish it together. We could not bear to lose a 
word; every word — and there were a good many! — seemed to 
tell. If you took one away you seemed to miss something impor- 
tant. It almost destroyed me, thinking it all out. I went round 
days with my hand to my forehead; and I don't believe I under- 
stand it perfectly yet. Do you?" 


I pretended that I did, but I do not mind being honester with 
the reader than I was with my interlocutress. I have a theory 
that it is not well' to penetrate every recess of an author's mean- 
ing. It robs him of the charm of mystery, and the somewhat lab- 
yrinthine construction of Mr. James's later sentences lends itself 
to the practice of the self-denial necessary to the preservation 
of this charm. What I feel sure of is that he has a meaning in it 
all, and that by and by, perhaps when I least expect it, I shall 
surprise his meaning. In the meanwhile I rest content with what 
I do know. In -spite of all the Browning Clubs — even the club 
which has put up a monument to the poet's butler ancestor — 
all of Browning is not clear, but enough of Browning is clear 
for any real lover of his poetry. 

I was sorry I had not thought of this in time to say it to my 
interlocutress; and I was sorry I had not amplified what I did 
say of his giving you a sense of things, so as to make it apply to 
places as well as persons. Never, in my ignorance, have I had a 
vivider sense of London, in my knowledge a stronger sense of 


The Question of Henry James 

Venice, than in The Whigs of the Dove. More miraculous still, 
as I have tried to express, was the sense he gave me of the an- 
terior New York where the life flowered which breathed out 
the odor called Milly Theale — a heartbreaking fragrance as of 
funeral violets — and of the anterior New England subacidly 
fruiting in Mrs. Stringham. As for social conditions, predica- 
ments, orders of things, where shall we find the like of the won- 
ders wrought in The Awkward Age? I have been trying to get 
phrases which should convey the effect of that psychomancy 
from me to my reader, and I find none so apt as some phrase 
that should suggest the convincingly incredible. Here is some- 
thing that the reason can as little refuse as it can accept. Into 
quite such particles as the various characters of this story would 
the disintegration of the old, rich, demoralized society of an 
ancient capital fall so probably that each of the kaleidoscopic 
fragments, dropping into irrelevant radiance around Mrs. 
Brookenham, would have its fatally appointed tone in the 
"scheme of color." Here is that inevitable, which Mr. Brander 
Matthews has noted as the right and infallible token of the real, 
It does not matter, after that, how the people talk — or in what 
"labyrinthine parentheses they let their unarriving language 
wander. They strongly and vividly exist, and they construct 
not a drama, perhaps, but a world, floating indeed in an obscure 
where it seems to have its solitary orbit, but to be as solidly pal- 
pable as any of the planets of the more familiar systems, and 
wrap.t in the aura of its peculiar corruption. Row bad the 
bad people on it may be, one docs not know, and is not intended 
to know, perhaps; that would be like being told the gross facts 
of some scandal which, so long as it was untouched, supported 
itself not unamusingly in air; but of the goodness of the good 
people one is not left in doubt; and it is a goodness which con- 
soles and sustains the virtue apt to droop in the presence of 
neighborly remissness. - 

I might easily attribute to the goodness a higher office than 
this; but if I did I might be trenching upon that ethical delicacy 
of the author which seems to claim so little for itself. Mr. James 
is, above any other, the master of the difficult art of never doing 
more than to "hint a fault, or hesitate dislike," and I am not 

William Dean Howells 

going to try committing him to conclusions he would shrink 
from. There is nothing of the clumsiness of the "satirist" in his 
dcs'ign t and if he notes the absolute commcrciality of the mod- 
ern London world, it is with a reserve clothing itself in frank- 
ness which is infinitely, as he would say, "detached. " But some- 
how, he lets you know how horribly business fashionable Eng- 
lish life is; he lets Lord Mark let Milly Thcale know, at their 
first meeting, when he tells her she is with people who never do 
anything for nothing, and when, with all her money, and per- 
haps because of it, she is still so trammeled in the ideal that she 
cannot take his meaning. Money, and money bluntly; gate 
money of all kinds; money the means, is the tune to which that 
old world turns in a way which we scarcely imagine in this 
crude new world where it is still so largely less the means than 
the end. 

But the general is lost in the personal, as it should be in Mr. 
James's books, earlier as well as later, and the allegory is so faint 
that it cannot always be traced. He does not say that the limit- 
less liberty allowed Nanda Brookenham by her mother in The 
Aivkward Age is better than the silken bondage in which the 
Duchess keeps her niece Aggie, though Nanda is admirably lov- 
able, and little Aggie is a little cat; that is no more his affair 
than to insist up,on the loyalty of old Mr. Longdon to an early 
love, or the generosity of Mitchett, as contrasted with the rapac- 
ity of Mrs. Brookenham, who, after all, wants nothing more 
than the means of being what she has always been. What he does 
is simply to show you those people mainly on the outside, as you 
mainly see people in the world, and to let you'divine them and 
their ends from what they do and say. They are presented with 
infinite pains; as'far as their appearance (though they are very 
little described) goes, you arc not suflcred to make a mistake. 
But he docs not analyze them for you; rather he synthesizes 
them, and carefully hands them over to you in a sort of integ- 
rity very uncommon in the characters of fiction. One might 
infer from this that his method was dramatic, something like 
Turgencv's, say; but I do not know that his method is dramatic. 
I do not recall from the book more than one passage of dramatic 
intensity, but that was for me of very great intensity; I mean 

The Question of Henry James 

the passage where old Mr. Longdon lets Vanderbank under- 
stand that he will provide for him if he will offer himself to 
Nanda, whom he knows to be in love with Vanderbank, and 
where Vanderbank will not promise. That is a great moment, 
where everything is most openly said, most brutally said, to 
American thinking; and yet said with a restraint of feeling that 
somehow redeems it all. 

Nothing could well be more perfected than the method of 
the three books which I have been supposing myself to be talk- 
ing about, however far anyone may think it from perfect. They 
express mastery, finality, doing what one means, in a measure 
not easily to be matched. I will leave out of the question the 
question of obscurity; I will let those debate that whom it in- 
terests more than it interests me. For my own part I take it that 
a master of Mr. James's quality does not set out with a design 
whose significance is not clear to himself, and if others do not 
make it clear to themselves, I suspect them rather than him of 
the fault. All the same I allow that it is sometimes not easy to 
make out; I allow that sometimes I do not make it out, I, who 
delight to read him almost more than any other living author, 
but then I leave myself in his hands. I do not believe he is going 
finally to play me the shabby trick of abandoning me in the 
dark; and meanwhile he perpetually interests me. If anything, 
he interests me too much, and I come away fatigued, because 
I cannot bear to lose the least pulse of the play of character; 
whereas from most fiction I lapse into long, delicious absences of 
mind, now and then comfortably recovering myself to find out 
what is going on, and then sinking below the surface again. 

The Awkward Age is mostly expressed in dialogue; The 
Whigs of the Dove is mostly in the narration and the synthesis 
of emotions. Not the synthesis of the motives, please; these in 
both books are left to the reader, almost as much as they are in 
The Sacred Fount. That troubled source, I will own, "is of a 
profundity," and in its depths darkles the solution which the 
author makes it no part of his business to pull to the top; if the 
reader wants it, let him dive. But why should not a novel be 
written so like to life, in which most of the events remain the 
meaningless, that we shall never quite know what the author 


William Dean Howells 

meant? Why, in fact, should not people come and go, and love 
and hate, and hurt and help one another as they do in reality, 
without rendering the reader a reason for their behavior, or 
offering an explanation at the end with which he can light him- 
self back over the way he has come, and see what they meant? 
Who knows what anyone means here below, or what he means 
himself, that is, precisely stands for? Most people mean noth- 
ing, except from moment to moment, if they indeed mean any- 
thing so long as that, and life which is full of propensities is 
almost without motives. In the scribbles which we suppose to 
be imitations of life, we hold the unhappy author to a logical 
consistency which we find so rarely in the original; but ought 
not we rather to praise him where his work confesses itself, as 
life confesses itself, without a plan? Why should we demand 
more of the imitator than we get from the creator? 

Of course, it can be answered that we are in creation like 
characters in fiction, while we are outside of the imitation and 
spectators instead of characters; but that docs not wholly cover 
the point. Perhaps, however, I am asking more for Mr. James 
than he would have me. In that case I am willing to offer him 
the reparation of a little detraction. I wish he would leave his 
people more, not less, to me when I read him. I have tried fol- 
lowing their speeches without taking in his comment, delight- 
fully pictorial as that always is, and it seems to me that I make 
rather more of their meaning, that way. I reserve the pleasure 
and privilege of going bnck and reading his comment in the 
light of my conclusions. This is the method I have largely pur- 
sued with the people of The Sacred Vount> of which I do not 
hesitate to say that I have mastered the secret, though, for the 
present I am not going to divulge it. Those who cannot wait 
may try the key which I have given. 

But do not, I should urge them, expect too much of it; I do 
not promise it will unlock everything. If you find yourself, at 
the end, with nothing in your hand but the postulate with 
which the supposed narrator fantastically started, namely, that 
people may involuntarily and unconsciously prey upon one an- 
other, and mentally and psychically enrich themselves at one 
another's expense, still you may console yourself, if you do not 


The Question of Henry James 

think this enough, with the fact that you have passed the time 
in the company of men and women freshly and truly seen, 
amusingly shown, and abidingly left with your imagination. 
For me, I am so little exacting, that this is enough. 

The Sacred Fount is a most interesting book, and you are 
teased through it to the end with delightful skill, but I am not 
going to say that it is a great book like The Awkward Age, or 
The Wi?tgs of the Dove, These are really incomparable books, 
not so much because there is nothing in contemporary fiction 
to equal them as because there is nothing the least like them. 
They are of a kind that none but their author can do, and since 
he is alone master of their art, I am very well content to leave 
him to do that kind of book quite as he chooses. I will not so 
abandon my function as to say that I could not tell him how 
to do them better, but it sufficiently interests me to see how he 
gets on without my help. After all, the critic has to leave 
authors somewhat to themselves; he cannot always be writing 
their books for them; and when I find an author, like Mr. 
James, who makes me acquainted with people who instantly 
pique my curiosity by "something rich and strange, " in an 
environment which is admirably imaginable, I gratefully make 
myself at home with them, and stay as long as he will let me. 


"But" — here is that interlocutress, whom I flattered myself I 
had silenced, at me again — "do you like to keep puzzling things 
out, so? I don't. Of course, the books are intensely fascinating, 
but I do not like to keep guessing conundrums. Why shouldn't 
we have studies of life that are not a series of conundrums?" 

"Dear lady," I make my answer, "what was I saying just now 
but that life itself is a series of conundrums, to which the an- 
swers are lost in the past, or are to be supplied us, after a long 
and purifying discipline of guessing, in the future? I do not 
admit your position, but if I did, still I should read the author 
who keeps you guessing, with a pleasure, an edification, in the 
suggestive, the instructive way he has of asking his conundrums 
beyond that I take in any of the authors who do not tax my 


William Dean Howells 

curiosity, who shove their answers at me before I have had a 
chance to try whether I cannot guess them. Here you have the 
work of a great psychologist, who has the imagination of a poet, 
the wit of a keen humorist, the conscience of an impeccable 
moralist, the temperament of a philosopher, and the wisdom of 
a rarely experienced witness of the world; and yet you come 
back at me with the fact, or rather the pretense, that you do not 
like to keep puzzling his things out. It is my high opinion of 
you that you precisely do like to keep puzzling his things out; 
that you are pleased with the sort of personal appeal made to 
you by the difficulties you pretend to resent, and that you enjoy 
the just sense of superiority which your continual or final divi- 
nations give you. Mr. James is one of those authors who pay the 
finest tribute an author can pay the intelligence of his reader by 
trusting it, fully and frankly. There you are; and if you were 
not puzzling out those recondite conundrums which you com- 
plain of, what better things, in the perusal of the whole range 
of contemporary fiction, could you be doing? For my part I can 
think for you of none. There is no book like The Awkward 
Age, as I said, for it is sole of its kind, and no book that at all 
equals it, since Mr. Hardy's Jude, for the intensity of its natu- 
ralness. I don't name them to compare them; again I renounce 
all comparisons for Mr. James's work; but I will say that in the 
deeply penetrating anguish of Jude, I felt nothing profounder 
than the pathos which aches and pierces through those clos- 
ing scenes of The Awkward Age, in Nanda's last talk with 
Vanderbank, whom she must and does leave for her mother's 
amusement, and her yet later talk with old Mr. Longdon, to 
whom she must and does own her love for Vanderbank so 
heartbreaking. What beautiful and gentle souls the new-fash- 
ioned young girl and the old-fashioned old man are, and how 
beautifully and gently they are revealed to us by the perfected 
art of the book in which they continue to live after we part 
with them! Plow — " 

"Ah, there," my interlocutress broke in, as if fearful of not 
having the last word, "I certainly agree with you. I wish you 
were as candid about everything else." 

, ^ 


In Darkest James 

[ 1904 ] 

SOME time ago, when Henry James wrote an essay on women 
that brought to my cheek the hot, rebellious blush, I said 
nothing about it, thinking that perhaps, after all, the man's 
style was his sufficient fig leaf, and that few would see how 
shocking he really was. And, indeed, it had been a long time 
since the public knew what Henry James was up to behind that 
verbal hedge of his, though half-suspecting that he meant no 
good, because a style like that seemed just the place for guilty 
secrets. But those of us who had formed the habit of him early 
could make him out even then, our eyes having grown so used 
to the deepening shadows of his later language that they could 
see in the dark, as you might sny. I say this not to brag of it, 
but merely to show that there were people who partly under- 
stood him even in The Sacred Fount, and he was clearer in his 
essays, especially in that wicked one on George Sand: The New 
Life, published in an American magazine. 

Here he was as bold as brass, telling women to go ahead and 
do and dare, and praising the fine old hearty goings on at the 
court of Augustus the Strong, and showing how they could be 
brought back again if women would only try. His impunity was 
due to the sheer laziness of the expurgators. They would not 
read him, and they did not believe anybody else could. They 
justified themselves, perhaps, by recalling passages like these in 
The Awkward Age: 

. What did this feeling wonderfully appear unless strangely irrele- 
vant. . . . 


Frank Moore Colby 

But she fixed him with her weary penetration. . . . 

He jumped up at this, as if he couldn't bear it, presenting as he 
walked across the room a large, foolish, fugitive back, on which her 
eyes rested as on a proof of her penetration. . . . 

"My poor child, you're of a profundity. . . ." 

He spoke almost uneasily, but she was not too much alarmed to 
continue lucid. 

"You're of a limpidity, dear man!" 

"Don't you think that's rather a back seat for one's best?" 

"A back seat?" she wondered, with a purity. 

"Your aunt didn't leave me with you to teach you the slang of the 

"The slang?" she spotlessly speculated. 

Arguing from this that he was bent more on eluding pursuit 
than on making converts, they let things pass that in other 
writers would have been immediately rebuked. He had, in fact, 
written furiously against the proprieties for several years. 
"There is only one propriety," he said, "that the painter of life 
can ask of a subject: Docs it or docs it not belong to life?" He 
charged our Anglo-Saxon writers with "a conspiracy of si- 
lence/' and taunted them with the fact that the women were 
more improper than the men. "Emancipations are in the air," 
said he, "but it is to women writers that we owe them." The 
men were cowards, rarely venturing a single coarse expression, 
but'alrcady in England there were pages upon pages of women's 
work so strong and rich and horrifying and free that a man 
could hardly read them. Halcyon days, they seemed to him, 
and woman the harbinger of a powerful Babylonish time when 
the improprieties should sing together like the morning stars. 
Not an enthusiastic person generally, he always warmed to this 
particular theme with generous emotion. 

His essay on George Sand discussing what he calls the "new 
life," cited the heart history of that author as "having given 
her sex for its new evolution and transformation the real stand- 
ard and measure of change." It was all recorded in Madame 
Karenine's biography, and Madame Karcnine, being a Russian 
with an "admirable Slav superiority to prejudice," was able to 
treat the matter in a "large, free way." A life so amorously 

The Question of Henry James 

profuse was sure to set an encouraging example, he thought. 
Her heart was like an hotel, occupied, he said, by "many more 
or less greasy males" in quick succession. He hoped the time 
would come when other women's hearts would be as miscel- 

In this direction their aim has been, as yet, comparatively modest 
and their emulation low; the challenge they have hitherto picked up is 
but the challenge of the average male. The approximation of the ex- 
traordinary woman has been, practically, in other words, to the ordinary 
man. Madame Sand's service is that she planted the flag much higher; 
'her own approximation, at least, was to the extraordinary. She reached 
him, she surpassed him, and she showed how, with native dispositions, 
the thing could be done. These new records will live as the precious 
text-book, so far as we have got, of the business. 

This was plain enough. Any other man would have been sup- 
pressed. In a literature so well policed as ours, the position of 
Henry James was anomalous. He was the only writer of the day 
whose unconventional notions did not matter. His dissolute and 
complicated Muse might say just what she chose. Perhaps this 
was because it would have been so difficult to expose him. Never 
did so much "vice" go with such sheltering vagueness. What- 
ever else may be said of James at this time, he was no tempter,' 
and though the novels of this period deal only with unlawful 
passions, they make but chilly reading on the whole. It is a land 
where the vices have no bodies and the passions no blood, where 
nobody sins because nobody has anything to sin with. Why 
should we worry when a spook goes wrong? For years James 
did not create one shadow-casting character. His love affairs, 
illicit though they be, are so stripped to their motives that they 
seem no more enticing than a diagram. A wraith proves faith- 
less to her marriage vow, elopes with a bogie in a cloud of words. 
Six phantoms meet and dine, three male, three female, with two 
thoughts apiece, and, after elaborate geometry of the heart, 
adultery follows like a Q.E.D. Shocking it ought to be, but 
yet it is not. Ghastly, tantalizing, queer, but never near enough 
human to be either good or bad. To be a sinner, even in the 
books you need some carnal attributes — lungs, liver, tastes, at 


Frank Moore Colby- 
least a pair of legs. Even the fiends have palpable tails; wise men 
have so depicted them. No flesh, no frailty; that may be why 
our sternest moralists licensed Kenry James to write his wick- 
edest. They saw that whatever the moral purport of these books, 
they might be left wide open in the nursery. 

To those who never liked him he is the same in these writings 
as in those before and since. They complain that even at his 
best he is too apt to think that when he has made a motive he 
has made a man. Nevertheless, though the world of his better 
novels is small, it is always credible — humanity run through a 
sieve, but still humanity. During this dark period his interests 
seemed to drop off one by one, leaving him shut in with his 
single theme — the rag, the bene, and the hank of hair, the com- 
plicated amours of skeletons. They called it his later manner, 
but the truth is, it was a change in the man himself. He saw 
fewer things in this spacious world than he used to see, and the 
people were growing more meager and queer and monotonous, 
and it was harder and harder to break away from the stump his 
fancy was tied to. 

In The Wings of the Dove there were signs of a partial re- 
covery. There were people who saw no difference between it 
and The Sacred Fount or The Awkward Age, but they were no 
friends of his. By what vice of introspection he got himself 
lashed to that fixed idea it is impossible to say, but it was clear 
that neither of those books was the work of a mind entirely free. 
In one aspect it was ridiculous; but if one laughed, it was with 
compunctions, for in another aspect it was exceedingly painful. 
This only from the point of view of his admirers. It is not for- 
gotten that there is the larger class (for whom this world in 
the main was made) to whom he is merely ridiculous. They do 
not sec why thoughts so unwilling to come out need be ex- 

To be sure in The Wings of the Dove there is the same ab- 
sorption in the machinery of motive and in mental processes 
the most minute. Through page after page he surveys a mind as 
a sick man looks at his counterpane, busy with little ridges and 
grooves and undulations. There arc chapters like wonderful 
games of solitaire, broken by no human sound save his own 


The Question of Henry James 

chuckle when he takes some mysterious trick or makes a move 
that he says is "beautiful." He has a way of saying "There you 
are" that is most exasperating, for it is always at the precise 
moment at which you know you have utterly lost yourself. 
There is no doubt that James's style is often too puffed up with 
its secrets. Despite its air of immense significance, the dark, un- 
fathomed caves of his ocean contain sometimes only the same 
sort of gravel you could have picked up on the shore. I have that 
from deep-sea thinkers who have been down him. But though 
this unsociable way of writing continued through The Wings 
of the Dove, it came nearer than any other novel that he had 
published for some years to the quality of his earlier work. It 
deals with conditions as well as with people. Instead of merely 
souls anywhere, we have men and women living in describable 
homes. It would be hard to find in those other novels anything 
in the spirit of the following passage, which is fairly typical of 
much in this: 

It was after the children's dinner . . . and the two young women 
were still in the presence of the crumpled tablecloth, the dispersed pin- 
afores, the scraped dishes, the lingering odour of boiled food. Kate had 
asked, with ceremony, if she might put up a window a little, and Mrs. 
Condrip had replied, without it, that she might do as she liked. She 
often received such inquiries as if they reflected in a manner on the 
pure essence of her little ones. . . . Their mother had become for Kate 
—who took it just for the effect of being their mother — quite a dif- 
ferent" thing from the mild Marian of the past; Mr. Condrip's widow 
expansively obscured that image. She was little more than a ragged 
relic, a plain prosaic result of him, as if she had somehow been pulled 
through him as through an obstinate funnel, only to be left crumpled 
and useless and with nothing in her but what he accounted for. 

Not that the passage shows him at his best, but it shows him 
as at least concerned with the setting of his characters. 

It is not worth while to attempt an outline of the story. Those 
who have done so have disagreed in essentials. It is impossible 
to hit off in a few words characters that James has picked out 
for their very complexity; and the story counts for little with 
him as against the business of recording the play of mind. One 

Frank Moore Colby 

does not take a watch to pieces merely to tell the time of day; 
and with James analysis is the end in hscH. 

If the obscurity of the language were due to the idea itself, 
and if while he tugs at an obstinate thought you could be sure 
it was worth the trouble, there would be no fault to find, but 
to him one thing seems as good as another when he is mousing 
around in a mind. It is a form of self-indulgence. He is as 
pleased with the motives that lead nowhere as with anything 
else. It is his even emphasis that most misleads. He writes a stac- 
cato* chronicle of things both great and small, like a constitu- 
tional history half made up of the measures that never passed. 
And in one respect he does not play fairly. He makes his char- 
acters read each other's minds from clues that he keeps to him- 
self. To invent an irreverant instance, suppose I were a distin- 
guished author with a psychological bent and wished to repre- 
sent two young people as prctcrnaturally acute. I might place 
them alone together and make them talk like this: 

"If — " she sparkled. 

"If!" he asked. He had lurched from the meaning for a moment. 

"I might" — she replied abundantly. 

His eye had eaten the meaning — "Me!" he gloriously burst. 

"Precisely," she thrilled. "How splendidly you Jo understand." 

I, the distinguished author, versed in my own psychology — 
the springs of n\y own marionettes — I understand it perfectly. 
For me there are words aplenty. But is it fair to you, the reader? 

Nevertheless — and this is the main point about Henry James 
— by indefinable means and in spite of wearisome prolixity he 
often succeeds in his darkest books in producing very strange 
and powerful effects. It is a lucky man who can find a word for 
them. Things you had supposed incommunicable certainly come 
your way. These arc the times when we are grateful to him for 
pottering away in his nebulous workshop among the things that 
are hard to express. Even when he fails we like him for making 
the attempt. We like him for going his own gait, though he 
leaves us straggling miles behind. We cannot afford at this time 
to blame any writer who is a little reckless of the average mind. 

Consider the case of Browning and all that his lusty independ- 

The Question of Henry James 

ence has done for us. Browning was quite careless of the average 
mind; he would as lief wreck it. He was careless of anybody 
else's mind, so bent was he on indulging his own. His question 
was not, What will you have? but What do I feel like doing? 
and readers had to take their chances, some to give him up as too 
deep, and others to beat their brains for inner meanings where 
there were none. He liked life so well that he prized its most 
vapid moments and expressed his mind at its best and at its 
worst, wrote sometimes as other men drum on windowpancs, 
catalogued a lot of objects he liked the look of, relaxed in verse, 
ate in it, sometimes slept in it, used it, in short, for so many 
strange little personal purposes that reading it sometimes seems 
an intrusion. Hence, he is quite as much a puzzle to the too 
thoughtful as he is to those who prefer not to think, for a great 
man's nonsense is sure to drive his commentators mad looking 
for a message. Browning differed from others not so much in 
the greatness of his mind as in the fact that he showed more of 
it. He seems obscure sometimes because people are unprepared 
for that degree of confidence. Then, there are certain precon- 
ceived notions as to the limits of literature, an expectation of 
large, plain things, of truth with a doorknob, of smooth, sym- 
metrical thoughts, not at all in the shape they come to the mind, 
but neatly trimmed for others to see when they leave it. No 
living man understands Browning; but for that matter, few 
men understand their v/ives. It is not fatal to enjoyment. People 
who are perfectly clear to each other are simply keeping things 
back. Any man would be a mystery if you could see him from 
the inside, and Browning puzzles us chiefly because we are not 
accustomed to seeing a mind exposed to view. It is the man's 
presence, not his message, that we care for in Browning's books; 
his zest for everything, his best foot and his worst foot, his 
deepest feelings and his foolishness, and the tag ends of his 
dreams. They are not the greatest poems in the world, but there 
was the greatest pleasure in the making of them. It is just the 
place for a writer to go and forget his minor literary duties, 
the sense of his demanding public, the obligation of the shining 
phrase, the need of making editorial cats jump, the standing 
orders for a jeu d'esprit. 

Frank Moore Colby 

It is also the place for a reader to go who is a little weary 
of the books which are written with such patient regard for the 
spiritual limitations of the public. And part of the obscurity 
of Henry James springs from the same pleasing and honorable 



Henry James and His Countrymen 
[ 1904 ] 

« R. HENRY JAMES, so it is stated on excellent authority, 
L is on the point of returning to the United States for a 
number of months, in order to renew his impressions of this 
country; and to anyone who is familiar in a general way with 
the course of Mr. James's work and the length of his expatri- 
ation, the announcement is one of altogether extraordinary in- 
terest. It provokes the question, indeed, whether during all the 
years of his absence, his native country has grown away from 
Mr. James or towards him. Would it or would it not fulfill any 
more completely at the present time the demands which he 
made upon it in the seventies, and which apparently at that 
time it failed to satisfy? What, on the other hand, has been the 
effect of his expatriation upon Mr. James himself? What has he 
gained thereby? And what has he lost? These questions cannot 
be answered without some discussion of the motive which in- 
duced one of the foremost American novelists and the first 
American stylist of his generation to persist in living abroad, 
and of the relation which he and his work occupy to the new 
American life, letters, and literary ideals. 

Here is an American man of letters, who started abroad when 
he was a very young fellow, and, like many of his literate coun- 
trymen before and since, straightway succumbed to the fasci- 
nation of Europe. In most of the other "cases," the pilgrimage 
cast a spell, the effect of which persisted in one way or another 
throughout the rest of their lives. In the case of Henry James 
it did more; it wrought a revolution; it transformed or re- 
formed his whole intellectual and spiritual outlook. Deeply 


Herbert Croly 

rooted in his disposition, there was an instance, of which it is 
sufficient to say at present, that it demanded for its satisfaction 
the utmost refinement and completeness of form. That instinct 
was starved in America. Europe aroused it into happy and vig- 
orous activity, the sense of which overflowed immediately in his 
work. He began to write stories about passionate pilgrims. His 
earlier books are peopled with young Americans who are fam- 
ished by the artistic and intellectual dearth and disorder of their 
native land, and who do not reach their full growth until they 
have fed upon the ripe fruit of European art and history. All 
this was, of course, the reflex of his own experience, the benefit 
of which he did not and could not forego. It determined the 
form, the purpose, and the circumstances of his subsequent life 
and work. 

Other American men of letters returned home after their 
European pilgrimage and took up their pre-established tasks. 
Europe became to them a sentimental association, a pensive 
memory, the subject matter for essays ana histories, and even, 
as in the case of Cooper, the standard whereby they in some 
measure estimated and criticized American society. A robust 
and austere mind like that of Emerson was strengthened by the 
experience, without being perturbed by the contrast; to the 
weak and impressionable spirit of N. P. Willis the memory of 
his pilgrimage and the sense of his loss were merely enervating; 
James Russell Lowell had a way that was all his own of keeping 
his feet planted on both sides of the water. It was the strength 
and the weakness of Henry James, however, that in his case 
both the experience and the dilemma which issued from it were 
more critical. He could not be content with writing about his 
pilgrimages merely as travelers' gossip, or of translating it into 
art criticism or history; neither could he unconcernedly resume 
his profession as novelist in this country, but with his subject 
matter and standards partly derived from Europe. As a novelist, 
he must deal with the vision and values of life as they appeared 
to him; and according to his moral outlook European life was 
life itself raised to a higher power, because more richly charged, 
more significantly composed, and more completely informed. He 
could not renounce this vision without intellectual mutilation; 


The Question of Henry James 

yet he could not give it free and sufficient expression in his na- 
tive country. 

The dilemma was one of the most momentous which can 
occur in the life of an artist; and it is no wonder that Mr. James 
hesitated for some time before making a final choice. During 
the ten years following his trip to Europe in 1872, he spent part 
of his time on one side of the water and part on the other, and 
the people in his stories followed in his footsteps. It was the 
period chiefly of his studies in comparative national psychology 
and manners. He not only shifted extremely American Amer- 
icans, such as Christopher Newman, to Europe, so as to see how 
they might look and behave in Paris; but he also tested the be- 
havior of some Europeanized Americans, when returned to the 
self-conscious simplicities of native American society. While 
most of his stories were concerned with these international com- 
parisons, he did attempt some elaborate searching of undiluted 
American life; but such books as Washington Square and The 
Bostonians do not rank among his successes. If one may judge 
from the result, Mr. James, during these years, was convincing 
himself by conscientious experimentation that his method and 
point of view demanded European surroundings and chiefly a 
European material. At any rate, he finally took up his per- 
manent residence abroad, and for twenty-two years he has not 
returned to his native country. He decided that in his own case 
the penalties of expatriation were less to be feared than the 
divided allegiance inseparable from a residence in the United 

Whatever we may think of the choice, it obviously was not 
made without a clear consciousness that he was running a risk 
and incurring a penalty. Intellectual work of any kind derives 
much of its momentum and effect from the extent to which it 
embodies and fulfills a national purpose and tradition; and the 
artist, whether literary or plastic, who forsakes his country is 
necessarily thrown back to a much greater extent upon his per- 
sonal resources. The loss of this national impulse docs not make 
so much difference to a painter or a sculptor, because the United 
States, at any rate of a generation ago, was without any local 
tradition proper to the arts of design, but even James, Whistler, 


Herbert Croly 

and William Story, while they can hardly be imagined in any 
surroundings but those of their own selection, did not make 
the selection with impunity. As Henry James says in his Wil- 
liam Wctmore Story and His Friends, "He (William Story), 
therefore, never failed of any plenitude in feeling — in the full- 
ness of time and on due occasion — that a man always pays, in 
one way or another for expatriation, for detachment from his 
plain primary heritage, and that this tax is levied in an amusing 
diversity of ways." In his second volume (page 222) Mr. James 
takes up the parable on his own account and explains what man- 
ner of payment Story managed to make. "This moral seems to 
be," he says, "that somehow in the long run, Story paid — paid 
for having sought his development even among the circum- 
stances that at the time of his choice appeared not alone the only 
propitious, but the only possible." He classes Story among "those 
existences, numerous enough, that in alien air, far from their 
native soil, have found themselves the prey of more beguilc- 
ment"; so that he figures Story's career as "a sort of beautiful 
sacrifice to a noble mistake." 

So far as I know, Mr. James has not told us how he himself 
has paid for his detachment from his "plain primary heritage"; 
but manifestly the payment exacted from a man of letters must 
both be different from and in its way heavier than that exacted 
from a sculptor. He himself suggests that Story might have been 
more of a poet in Cambridge than he was a sculptor in Rome, 
which could scarcely be true unless the "plain primary heritage" 
of an American man of letters contained what the heritage of 
an American sculptor did not contain — a local tradition, proper 
to literary art, of some power and consequence. It follows that 
an American man of letters in forsaking his own country, both 
sacrifices something of greater value to his work, and under 
ordinary circumstances, acquires something of decidedly smaller 
value, in suchwise that while a great many artists have felt im- 
pelled to live permanently abroad, very few men of letters have 
submitted to a similar compulsion. Mr. James's "case," however, 
was, it must be admitted, in every way exceptional; and its 
peculiarity consisted in the fact that his work was more closely 
allied in method and purpose with the structural and plastic arts 


The Question of Henry James 

than it was with previous or subsequent American literature. 
He could afford to forego the impulse of the national habit and 
tradition, because his method and purpose were peculiar to him- 
self and derived their power from an intense and exclusive per- 
sonal faith. As an American man of letters, permanently resi- 
dent abroad, he was very conscious of his situation and very 
resolute to justify his choice. Whatever penalty he had to pay, 
the very last mistake he was like to make was that of Story — 
that of permitting himself to be diverted by his surroundings. 
No one knew better than he that he was thrown back on his 
individual — as compared to the national — intellectual outlook, 
that he must "live with his conception"; and the v/ay in which 
he has paid his penalty issues as directly from this personal con- 
centration as Story's did from his easier beguilement. 

In any attempt to estimate the rewards and penalties of Mr. 
James's expatriation, the fact must be constantly kept in mind 
that it was in London he took up his residence. His earlier stories 
were as much, if not more, concerned with France and Italy as 
with England. Christopher Newman, like all good Americans 
in the seventies, went to Paris to live. Roderick Hudson, at the 
bidding of the prevalent preference for inspiration to technique, 
followed one of the roads that led to Rome. Daisy Miller had 
the Forum and St. Peter's as the scenery for her colloquial ex- 
ploits. In the beginning, Mr. James himself seems to have passed 
as much time on the continent as in England. Finally, however, 
the neighborhood of London became definitely his home; and 
the study of English society, with an occasional American inter- 
polated by way of relief or contrast, more persistently his task. 
Even when the scene shifts to the continent, as it frequently 
does, English people, hov/cver modified by the scenery, remain 
his subject matter; and though in his last novel, The Ambassa- 
dors, he returns to his earlier study of the effect which Paris 
and a Parisian woman may have upon susceptible Americans, 
the liveliness of the effect is partly due to its novelty. 

The expatriated American of the present day, even when he 
lives on the continent, takes on English characteristics; and the 
fact that Mr. James lives in England and writes chiefly about its 
inhabitants, helps both to qualify and define his expatriation. 

Herbert Croly 

He is, after all, no more than half divided from his native coun- 
try. He is writing of a people whose language we use in our own 
way, whose literary traditions we have in some measure inher- 
ited, and of whom he may write and we may read without any 
violent intellectual transposition. Of course, these very facts 
have in some cases only helped to Anglicize an American resi- 
dent of London much more thoroughly than he could possibly 
have been Italianized in Rome; but no such disaster, at least so 
far as his work is concerned, has befallen Mr. James. He has 
taken what England had to give him. He has found the matu- 
rity of English life, its treasures of fully formed types, of fixed 
traditions and of domestic scenery, the incomparable social spec- 
tacle that it offers — he has found this all very much to his pur- 
pose. Yet this purpose is as alien to English as it is to American 
literature. It is nothing but his own purpose, his own concep- 
tion; and Mr. James, in writing of Story, classes London with 
Boston or New York as a city in which an artist must "live 
with his conception." So, while it cannot be said that he has 
remained much of an American in London, at least he has not 
become, artistically speaking, much of an Englishman, and we 
may at least surmise that he has been more of an American in 
London than he would have been in New York. 

The great fact about Mr. James is that wherever he lives, he 
is, above all, deliberately and decisively the individual artist. 
In England the American literary artist was allowed free per- 
sonal expression, whereas in this country he was not. English 
life he could approach more sympathetically from his point of 
view, and he could handle it more saliently with his equipment 
and methods. The artist, as Mr. James sees him, is the man 
who seeks fullness of insight and perfection of form at any 
cost. Art is second only to religion in the sacrifices which 
it demands from its followers. What all artists need and 
what American artists can obtain only by some violence 
of behavior, is moral and mental detachment — the freedom 
from practical obligations which will compromise his work, 
the freedom from intellectual and social ties which will obscure 
his vision. In The Lesson of the Master, for instance, Mr. James 
makes it out that the artist, in this case a novelist, should not 


The Question of Henry James 

marry, because after marriage his work, if he be conscientious 
and successful, will be subject to a jointure in his wife's interest; 
it becomes tied to a fixed income and the whole social establish- 
ment. So far as I know, he nowhere advises the artist to deny 
himself a country as well as a wife, but patriotism, either en- 
thusiastic or official, obviously has its dangers for a man to 
whom intellectual integrity is of the first importance. In a re- 
markable passage in the second volume of Story's life (pages 53 
and following) he complains of Mrs. Browning that her "beau- 
tiful mind and high gift were discredited by their engrossment" 
with the Italian cause, not, of course,, because her Italian patriot- 
ism was passionate, but because her passion destroyed that "sav- 
ing and sacred sense of proportion," which we demand from 
great genius. The patriotic American, particularly the patriotic 
American artist, whether genius or not, is not much troubled 
by any saving sense of proportion, for there seems to be some- 
thing about American patriotism which levies a heavy tax in the 
way of intellectual and moral credulity. The momentum of our 
practical life certainly tends to convert the novelist who at- 
tempts to formulate its issues, into something of a stump 
speaker; and one can easily understand that an artist who places 
such a high value upon a large and disinterested intellectual out- 
look may find it desirable to exalt his art at the expense of his 

American life is in the making. Its social forms are confused 
and indefinite; its social types either local, or evasive, or imper- 
manent. Its ideal of a democratic society in a democratic state is 
constantly present as an ideal, but mostly absent as a reality, 
offering a problem to be worked out rather than an achieve-' 
ment to be generalized and portrayed. Its intellectual interests 
are for the present subordinated to its moral, practical, and busi- 
ness interests. The atmosphere of its life is charged with activity 
and endeavor rather than with observation and reflection. The 
novelist who attempts to represent this life finds himself in a 
difficult situation. It is hard to reach or to maintain any suffi- 
cient intellectual concentration or detachment. He is himself 
generally caught up and whirled along by these powerful illu- 
sions, which strenuous Americans are trying to convert into 


Herbert Croly 

realities. He becomes either a patriotic orator, masked as a nov- 
elist, or he confines himself to the description of the social eddies 
which the flood of American life occasionally casts off to one 

side. In such a society the permanent aspects which a novelist 
may fix, tend to be, as the work of Mr. Howells shows, some- 
what unimportant; and if the better American novelists are 
particularly deficient in the power of coherent, salient, and edi- 
fying thought, if they seem unable to compose large, powerful, 
and vivid social pictures, the difficulty lies both with the mate- 
rial itself, and with the effect of their surroundings in diluting 
the blood of their intellectual purpose. 

In abandoning his own country, Mr. James seems to have 
been driven by the logic of his choice to fasten his attention 
more exclusively than ever upon those social traits in which his 
countrymen, when at home, are most completely lacking. He 
instinctively, he consciously, preferred the study of definite and 
mature social types. Although coming from the country of little 
leisure, Mr. James almost always portrays leisured people, or 
people in their leisured moments — men and women who have 
for one cause or another abandoned the day's work. They may 
not be rich; but if so they have either consented to their pov-. 
erty, or are seeking wealth, as did Kate Croy, by devious and 
daring social diplomacy. They are not interested in trade, in 
politics, nor as a rule in ideas; but they are "wonderfully" in- 
terested in each other; and the only active working people who 
are admitted to this set of economic parasites are the artists — the 
people whose active work illuminates the play of social contrast, 
diplomacy, and adventure. Mr. James likes to arrange people of 
this kind in effective and significant combinations, heightened 
by an effective and significant background. It is a subtle, excit- 
ing, and finished social situation, which he isolates, analyzes, in- 
terprets, and composes, with his eyes fastened exclusively upon 
the psychological aesthetics of the people and the social aesthetics 
of their attitudes toward one another. 

London is obviously much more in the shadow of this kind 
of social foliage than is New York or Boston. It contains a very 
large number of people, in good "society" and out, who would 
rather pursue interesting inquiries in human nature, or assume 


The Question of Henry James 

and watch interesting social attitudes than play the strenuous 
part. That there should be so many of these people in good "so- 
ciety," is in itself perhaps a sign of deterioration. This society 
has abandoned the solid distinction of aspect and behavior which 
it possessed in 1850, and Mr. James regretfully notes and even 
chronicles its loss of form; but the very contrast between its 
high memories and survivals and its present pursuit of the so- 
cially curious and remunerative person provides him with many 
an amusing situation. From his point of view, also, the value 
of these situations is enormously enhanced by the background 
of domestic scenery, partly historic and partly personal, which 
he can arrange around them. No writer of historical or romantic 
stories has been more careful to give his fables an appropriate 
historic or emotional setting than has Henry James to place his 
characters in houses and rooms which illuminate and intensify 
their personalities. He has given, indeed, a new value in the art 
of novel writing to domestic properties and scenery — to such an 
extent that a woman like Madame de Vionnet is as absolutely 
identified with her house and is as inconceivable apart from it as 
Meg Merrilies would be apart from Scottish moorland. Un- 
doubtedly one of Mr. James's strongest reasons for preferring 
England to his own country is that, abroad, these finer propri- 
eties of domestic life have had time to become authentic and 
definite. They are the creation of social position, of personal lei- 
sure, of historic accumulation, and in our own country the his- 
toric accumulation is meager, social position vague and doubt- 
ful, and personal leisure almost a minus quality. 

We are now, perhaps, better prepared to understand how 
wide the gulf is which divides Mr. James from the life and lit- 
erature of his contemporary fellow countrymen. While he has 
renounced any attempt to deal with action, achievement, it is 
just such action and achievement by which they are fascinated 
and engrossed. The social and psychological spectacle which Mr. 
James presents makes little of the common general appeal of the 
great traditional plot; and it is a literary rendering, adapted to 
American life, of the great traditional plot which Americans de- 
mand and which dominates our contemporary novel. Whatever 
else this novel possesses, it must possess energy, excitement, mo- 


Herbert Croly 

mentum, and purpose. Even the ordinary historical novel, which 
has, of course, always tried to be exciting, is often becoming 
infused with a patriotic purpose, which gives something more 
than a personal and romantic significance to its issues. As to the 
novel of contemporary life, while it is still circumscribed to a 
large extent by localities and the romantic convention of a pair 
of lovers, it is making an ambitious attempt to be both dramatic 
and important — to give a thrilling version of some of the salient 
activities of American industry, politics, and society. In short, 
it is character which fulfills itself in vigorous performance, 
which is swept along, almost always to success, by the living, 
conspicuous, national forces that the younger writers are trying 
to represent; and this material, as well as the literary methods 
whereby it is handled and the artistic point of view whercfrom 
it is approached, is as different as possible from the material, the 
methods, and the point of view of Mr. James. 

One cannot keep sympathizing strongly with the strenuous 
innocence of the contemporary American novel and literary 
purpose. As yet, it has not been dignified by the appearance of 
any man who can write well or think deep. Its work is impres- 
sive only in the mass, and for what it promises. Earnest as it is, 
it is lacking in artistic and intellectual integrity; it is the issue 
of a curious moral and mental superficiality which is the result 
partly of inexperience, partly of want of imagination, partly of 
a naive faith in good intentions. It tries harder to be contempo- 
rary, representative, popular, and vital than it does to be well- 
fashioned, well-observed, or well-considered. In short, the 
younger American novelist, like the American politician, has his 
ear to the ground and fails to be representative and formative 
in a large way, because he tries so hard to be immediately influ- 
ential and "efficient." Yet, in spite of the superficiality of this 
work, its lack of manners, of reserve, of weight, and of dignity, 
it is the product of a genuine impulse; it is in line with the 
great storytelling tradition. The desire to give a vigorous and 
thrilling version of American life, to portray its typical actions, 
its momentous achievements, contains at least the chance of a 
great national literature and drama. The penalty which Mr. 
James pays for his expatriation, for his exclusive and consistent 


The Question of Henry James 

loyalty to his personal faith and vision, is just the penalty of 
being wholly separated from this main stream of American lit- 
erary fulfillment. He will appeal profoundly only to an intel- 
lectual interest as restricted and as special as the point of view 
which has characterized his work, and I mean by this something 
more than the familiar comment that he is not and will not be 
a popular novelist. Not only will his public be small, but it does 
not and will not include — not to any effective extent — his 
American fellow craftsmen — the men who will carry on the 
work, and, perhaps, have their share in the consummation. 

It should be added, however, that if the consummation is 
reached, it will be reached only by the acquisition on the part 
of his literary fellow countrymen of an artistic and intellectual 
integrity analogous to that of Henry James. What thjy need 
above all is some infusion of his incorruptible artistic purpose, 
of his devotion to good workmanship, of his freedom from stu- 
pefying moral and social illusions, of his ability, limited by his 
outlook though it be, really to simplify his material and really 
to construct his effect. Their need of an infusion of this kind 
can scarcely be exaggerated. Without it their work will remain 
at best a kind of literary journalism and will be as certainly 
ephemeral, as are all slovenly and superficial works of art. Much 
as his literate fellow countrymen need Mr. James, however, it 
is the misfortune of his position that they do not and cannot 
derive this artistic leaven directly from his books. In individual 
cases, of course, the ferment has been transmitted, but on the 
whole they cannot obtain any conspicuous benefit from him 
without a dangerous imaginative transposition. They cannot 
submit to his influence without risking what is best in their own 
point of view. He who is in some ways so great and admirable 
a master will be shunned or ignored as a teacher and model by 
his American fellow craftsmen; and if they acquire any of his 
merits, it must necessarily be from a source which has some of 
Henry James's intellectual incorruptibility and disinterested- 
ness, but which also has the quality of being momentous, con- 
tagious, and popular. 

To possess much of the style and intellectual vision which 
one's countrymen need, and yet to be so divided from them 


Herbert Croly 

that you cannot help them in their poverty, seems to me 
a high price to pay for the advantages of Mr. James's expatria- 
tion. Yet I am not bold enough to say that the price is too high. 
An achievement so extraordinary and so individual as that of 
Henry James is absolutely its own justification, and American 
critics should recognize this plain condition by considering it 
chiefly upon its own merits, rather than upon its defects or 

These merits will in any case exact their due recognition in 
American literary history; and, provided American criticism 
plays its proper part, they may even have their due influence on 
American literature. An influence which cannot be exercised 
directly may be exercised indirectly — provided the men, who 
should understand the height of the achievement on the one 
hand and the greatness of the need on the other, have the sense 
to read the lesson and the voice to proclaim it. 


„ 1i 

The Mote in the Middle Distance 

IT was with the sense of a, for him, very memorable some- 
thing that he peered now into the immediate future, and 
tried, not without compunction, to take that period up where 
he had, prospectively, left it. But just where the deuce had he 
left it? The consciousness of dubiety was, for our friend, not, 
this morning, quite yet clean-cut enough to outline the figures 
on what she had called his "horizon," between which and him- 
self the twilight was indeed of a quality somewhat intimidating. 
He had run up, in the course of time, against a good number of 
"teasers"; and the function of teasing them back — of, as it 
were, giving them, every now and then, "what for" — was in 
him so much a habit that he would have been at a loss had there 
been, on the face of it, nothing to lose. Oh, he always had of- 
fered rewards, of course — had ever so liberally pasted the win- 
dows of his soul with staring appeals, minute descriptions, 
promises that knew no bounds. But the actual recovery of the 
article; — the business of drawing and crossing the check, 
blotched though this were with tears of joy — had blankly ap- 
peared to him rather in the light of a sacrilege, casting, he some- 
times felt, a palpable chill on the fervor of the next quest. It 
was just this fervor that was threatened as, raising himself on 
his elbow, he stared at the foot of his bed. That his eyes refused 
to rest there for more than the fraction of an instant, may be 
taken — was, even then, taken by Keith Tantalus — as a hint of 
his recollection that after all the phenomenon wasn't to be sin- 
gular. Thus the exact repetition, at the foot of Eva's bed, of 
the shape pendulous at the foot of his was hardly enough to ac- 


Max Bcerbohm 

count for the fixity with which he envisaged it, and for which 
he was to find, some years later, a motive in the (as it turned 
out) hardly generous fear that Eva had already made the great 
investigation "on her own." Her very regular breathing pres- 
ently reassured him that, if she had peeped into "her" stocking, 
she must have done so in sleep. Whether he should wake her 
now, or wait for their nurse to wake them both in due course, 
was a problem presently solved by a new development. It was 
plain that his sister was now watching him between her eye- 
lashes. He had half expected that. She really was — he had often 
told her that she really was — magnificent; and her magnificence 
was never more obvious than in the pause that elapsed before 
she all of a sudden remarked, "They so very indubitably are, 
you know!" 

It occurred to him as befitting Eva's remoteness, which was a 
part of Eva's magnificence, that her voice emerged somewhat 
muffled by the bedclothes. She was ever, indeed, the most tele- 
phonic of her sex. In talking to Eva you always had, as it were, 
your lips to the receiver. If you didn't try to meet her fine 
eyes, it was that you simply couldn't hope to: there were too 
many dark, too many buzzing and bewildering and all frankly 
not negotiable leagues in between. Snatches of other voices 
seemed often to intertrude themselves in the parley; and your 
loyal effort not to overhear these was complicated by your fear 
of missing what Eva might be twittering. "Oh, you certainly 
haven't, my dear, the trick of propinquity!" was a thrust she 
had once parried by saying that, in that case, he hadn't — to 
which his unspoken rejoinder that she had caught her tone from 
the peevish young women at the Central seemed to him (if not 
perhaps in the last, certainly in the last but one, analysis) to 
lack finality. With Eva, he had found, it was always safest to 
"ring off." It was with a certain sense of his rashness in the 
matter, therefore, that he now, with an air of feverishly "hold- 
ing the line," said, "Oh, as to that!" 

Had she, he presently asked himself, "rung off"? It was char- 
acteristic of our friend — was indeed "him all over" — that his 
fear of what she was going to say was as nothing to his fear of 
what she might be going to leave unsaid. He had, in his con- 


The Question of Henry James 

verse with her, been never so conscious as now of the interven- 
ing leagues; they had never so insistently beaten the drum of 
his ear; and he caught himself in the act of awfully computing, 
with a certain statistical passion, the distance between Rome 
and Boston. Ke has never been able to decide which of these 
points he was psychically the nearer to at the moment when 
Eva, replying, "Well, one does, anyhow, leave a margin for the 
pretext, you know!" made him, for the first time in his life, 
wonder whether she were not more magnificent than even he 
had ever given her credit for being. Perhaps it was to test this 
theory, or perhaps merely to gain time, that he now raised him- 
self to his knees, and, leaning with outstretched arm towards the 
foot of his bed, made as though to touch the stocking which 
Santa Claus had, overnight, left dangling there. His posture, 
as he stared obliquely at Eva, with a sort of beaming defiance, 
recalled to him something seen in an "illustration.'* This rem- 
iniscence, however — if such it was, save in the scarred, the poor 
dear old woebegone and so very bcguilingly not refractive mir- 
ror of the moment — took a peculiar twist from Eva's behavior. 
She had, with startling suddenness, sat bolt upright, and looked 
to him as if she were overhearing some tragedy at the other 
end of the wire, where, in the nature of things, she was unable 
to arrest it. The gaze she fixed on her extravagant kinsman was 
of a kind to make him wonder how he contrived to remain, as 
he beautifully did, rigid. His prop was possibly the reflection 
that flashed on him that, if she abounded in attenuations, well, 
hang it all, so did he! It was simply a difference of plane. Re- 
adjust the "values," as painters say, and there you were! He was 
to feel that he was only too crudely "there" when, leaning 
further forward, he laid a chubby forefinger on the stocking, 
causing that receptacle to rock ponderously to and fro. This 
effect was more expected than the tears which started to Eva's 
eyes, and the intensity with which "Don't you," she exclaimed, 

"The mote in the middle distance?" he asked. "Did you ever, 
my dear, know me to see anything else? I tell you it blocks out 
everything. It's a cathedral, it's a herd of elephants, it's the 
whole habitable globe. Gh, it's, believe me, of an obsessiveness!" 


Max Beerbohm 

But his sense of the one thing it didn't block out from his pur- 
view enabled him to launch at Eva a speculation as to just how 
far Santa Claus had, for the particular occasion, gone. The 
gauge, for both of them, of this seasonable distance seemed 
almost blatantly suspended in the silhouettes of the two stock- 
ings. Over and above the basis of (presumably) sweetmeats in 
the toes and heels, certain extrusions stood for a very plenary 
fulfillment of desire. And, since Eva had set her heart on a doll 
of ample proportions and practicable eyelids — had asked that 
most admirable of her sex, their mother, for it with not less 
directness than he himself had put into his demand for a sword 
and helmet — her coyness now struck Keith as lying near to, at 
indeed a hardly measurable distance from, the border line of his 
patience. If she didn't want the doll, why the deuce had she 
made such a point of getting it? He was perhaps on the verge 
of putting this question to her, when, waving her hand to in- 
clude both stockings, she said, "Of course, my dear, you do see. 
There they are, and you know I know you know we wouldn't, 
either of us, dip a finger into them." With a vibrancy of tone 
that seemed to bring her voice quite close to him, ''One doesn't," 
she added, "violate the shrine — pick the pearl from the shell!" 
Even had the answering question "Doesn't one just?" which 
for an instant hovered on the tip of his tongue, been uttered, it 
could not have obscured for Keith the change which her mag- 
nificence had wrought in him. Something, perhaps, of the big- 
otry of the convert was already discernible in the way that, 
averting his eyes, he said, "One doesn't even peer." As to 
whether, in the years that have elapsed since he said this either 
of our friends (now adult) has, in fact, "peered," is a question 
which, whenever I call at the house, I am tempted to put to one 
or other of them. But any regret I may feel in my invariable 
failure to "come up to the scratch" of yielding to this tempta- 
tion is balanced, for me, by my impression — my sometimes all 
but throned and anointed certainty — that the answer, if vouch- 
safed, would be in the negative. 


*. *? 


The Historian o£ Fine Consciences 
C 1905 ] 

IN one of his critical studies, published some fifteen years ago, 
Mr. Henry James claims for the novelist the standing of the 
historian as the only adequate one, as for himself and before his 
audience. I think that this claim cannot be contested, and that 

] the position is unassailable. Fiction is history, human history, 
or it is nothing. But it is also more than that; it stands on firmer 
ground, being based on the reality of forms and the observation 
of social phenomena, whereas history is based on documents, and 
the reading of print and handwriting — on secondhand impres- 
sion. Thus, fiction is nearer truth. But let that pass. A historian 
may be an artist, too, and a novelist is a historian, the preserver, 

. the keeper, the expounder, of human experience. As is meet for 
a man of his descent and tradition, Mr. Henry James is the his^ 
torian of fine consciences. 

Of course, this is a general statement; but I don't think its 
truth will be, or can be, questioned. Its fault is that it leaves 
so much out; and, besides, Mr. Henry James is much too consid- 
erable to be put into the nutshell of a phrase. The fact remains 
that he has made his choice, and that his choice is justified up 
to the hilt by the success of his art. He has taken for himself the 
greater part. The range of a fine conscience covers more good 
and evil than the range of conscience which may be called, 
roughly, not fine; a conscience , less troubled hy_t )Ve. niV.e dis- 
crim ination of shades of conduc t. A fine con science is more con- 
c erned with essentials; its triumphs arc more perfect, IF less 
profitable, in a worldly sense. There is, in short, more truth in 
its working for a historian to detect and to show. It is a thing 


Joseph Conrad 

of infinite complication and suggestion. None of these escapes 
the art of Mr. Henry James. He has mastered the country, his 
domain, not wild indeed, but full of romantic glimpses, of deep 
shadows and sunny places. There are no secrets left within his 
range. He has disclosed them as they should be disclosed — that 
is, beautifully. And, indeed, ugliness has but little place in this 
world of his creation. Yet it is always felt in the truthfulness of 
his art; it is there, it surrounds the scene, it presses close upon 
it. It is made visible, tangible, in the struggles, in the contacts 
of the fine consciences, in their perplexities, in the sophism of 
their mistakes. For a Jine conscience is natural ly a virti ious__pne. i/. 
\X'hat is natural about it is just its fineness, an d abiding se ns e_o f 
t he i n t a n g jj)le Jj ^yxr^xc.sjw nijcigh t . It is most visible in their ulti- 
mate triumph, in their emergence from miracle, through an en- 
ergetic act of renunciation. Energetic, not violent; the distinc- 
tion is wide, enormous, like that between substance and shadow. 
Through it all Mr. Henry James keeps a firm hold of the sub- 
stance, of what is worth having, of what is worth holding. The 
contrary opinion has been, if not absolutely affirmed, then at 
least implied, with some frequency. To most of us, living will- 
ingly in a sort of intellectual moonlight, in the faintly reflected 
light of truth, the shadows so firmly renounced by Mr. Henry 
James's men and women, stand out endowed with extraordinary 
value, with a value so extraordinary that their rejection offends, 
by its uncalled-for scrupulousness, those businesslike instincts 
which a careful Providence has implanted in our breasts. And, 
apart from that just cause of discontent, it is obvious that a 
solution by rejection must always present a certain lack of final- 
ity, especially startling when contrasted with the usual methods 
of solution by rewards and punishments, by crowned love, by 
fortune, by a broken leg or a sudden death. Why the reading 
public which, as a body, has never laid upon a storyteller the 
command to be an artist, should demand from him this sham of 
divine omnipotence, is utterly incomprehensible. But so it is; 
and these solutions are legitimate inasmuch as they satisfy the 
desire for finality, for which our hearts yearn, with a longing 
greater than the longing for the loaves and fishes of this earth. 
Perhaps the only true desire of mankind, coming thus to light 


The Question of Henry James 

in its hours of leisure, is to be set at rest. One is never set at rest 
by Mr. Henry James's novels. His books end as an episode in life 
ends. You remain with the sense of the life still going on; and 
even the subtle presence of the dead is felt 'm that silence that 
comes upon the artist-creation when the last word has been read. 
It is eminently satisfying, but it is not final. Mr. Henry James, 
great artist and faithful historian, never attempts the impossible. 



The Old Man 
[ 1932] 

THIRTY years ago the novel was still the newest, as it re- 
mains the Cinderella, of art forms. (That of the "movies" 
had not yet appeared.) The practice of novel writing had ex- 
isted for a bare two hundred and fifty years; the novelist was 
still regarded as a rogue and vagabond, and the novel as a "waste 
of time" — or worse. And the idea of the novel as a work of art, 
capable of possessing a form, even as sonnets or sonatas possess 
forms — that idea had only existed since 1850, and in the France 
of Flaubert alone, at that. Writers had certainly aimed at "pro- 
gressions of effect" in short efforts since the days of Margaret 
of Navarre; and obviously what the typical English novelist 
had always aimed at — if he had aimed at any form at all — and 
what the typical English critic looked for — if ever he conde- 
scended to look at a novel — : was a series of short stories with 
linked characters and possibly a culmination. Indeed, that con- 
ception of the novel has been forced upon the English novelist 
by the commercial exigencies of hundreds of years. The ro- 
mances of Shakespeare, novels written for ranted recitation, and 
admirable in the technique of that form, were molded by the 
necessity for concurrent action in varying places; the curtain 
had to be used. So you had the "strong situation," in order that 
the psychological stages of Othello should be firm in the hearer's 
mind whilst Desdemona was alone before the audience. The 
novels of Fielding, of Dickens, and of Thackeray were written 
for publication in parts; at the end of every part must come 
the "strong situation," to keep the plot in the reader's head until 
the first of next month. So with the eminent contemporaries of 


The Question of Henry James 

ours in the nineties of the last century; if the writer was to 
make a living wage he must aim at serialization; for that once 
again you must have a strong scene before you write "To be 
Continued," or the reader would not hanker for the next num- 
ber of the magazine you served. But you do not need to go to 
commercial fiction to find the origin of the tendency; if the 
reader has ever lain awake in a long school dormitory or a well- 
peopled children's bedroom, listening to or telling long, long 
talcs that went on from day to day or from week to week, he 
will have known, or will have observed, the necessity of retain- 
ing the story in the hearer's mind, and to introduce, just before 
each listener's head sank on the pillow — the "strong situation." 
Indeed, Scheherazade knew that pressing need. 

It was against the tyranny of this convention that Conrad 
was revolting, when he sought so passionately for the "new 
form." How often, in those distant days, lamenting the unlike- 
lihood of our making even modest livings by our pens, have we 
not sighingly acknowledged that serialization was not for us! 
For I think we both started out with at least this much of a new 
form in our heads: we considered a novel to be a rendering of 
an affair. We used to say, I will admit, that a subject must be 
seized by the throat until the last drop of dramatic possibility 
was squeezed out of it. I suppose we had to concede that much 
to the cult of the strong situation. Nevertheless, a novel was the 
rendering of an affair: of one embroilment, one set of embar- 
rassments, one human coil, one psychological progression. From 
this the novel got its unity. No doubt it might have its caesura 
— or even several; but these must be brought about by tem- 
peramental pauses, markings of time when the treatment called 
for them. But the whole novel was to be an exhaustion of as- 
pects, was to proceed to one culmination, to reveal once and for 
all, in the last sentence — or the penultimate — in the last phrase, 
or the one before it, the psychological significance of the whole. 
(Of course, you might have what is called in music the coda.) 
But it is perfectly obvious that such a treatment of an affair 
could not cut itself up into strong situations at the end of 
every four or every seven thousand words. That market at least 
was closed to us. 


Ford Madox Ford 

I have suggested that we were more alone in our search for 
the new form than, very likely, we actually were. Mr. Bennett, 
at least at that date, was engaged in acquiring the immense 
knowledge of French tricks and devices that his work after- 
ward displayed. And there was always Mr. George Moore. 

In the meantime, magisterially and at leisure, in Rye, Henry 
James was performing the miracles after whose secrets we were 
merely groping. I don't know why — but we rather ignored that 
fact. For, in the end, Conrad and I found salvation not* in any 
machined form, but in the sheer attempt to reproduce life as it 
presents itself to the intelligent observer. I daresay, if we could 
only perceive it, life has a pattern. I don't mean that of birth, 
apogee, and death, but a woven symbolism of its own. "The 
Figure in the Carpet," Henry James called it — and that he saw 
something of the sort was no doubt the secret of his magic. But, 
though I walked with and listened to the Master day after day, 
I remember only one occasion on which he made a remark that 
was a revelation of his own aims and methods. That I will re- 
serve until it falls in place in the pattern of my own immediate 
carpet. For the rest, our intercourse resolved itself into my 
listening silently, and wondering unceasingly at his observation 
of the littlest things of life. 

He would, if he never talked of books, frequently talk of the 
personalities of their writers — not infrequently in terms of 
shuddering at their social excess, much as he shuddered at con- 
tact with Crane. He expressed intense dislike for Flaubert who 
"opened his own door in his dressing-gown" and he related, not 
infrequently, unrepeatable stories of the menages of Maupas- 
sant — but he much preferred Maupassant to "poor dear old 
Flaubert." Of Turgencv's appearance, personality, and habits, 
he would talk with great tenderness of expression; he called him 
nearly always "the beautiful Russian genius," and would tell 
stories of Turgencv's charming attentions to his peasant mis- 
tresses. He liked, in fact, persons who were suave when you 
met them — and I daresay that his preference of that sort colored 
his literary tastes. He preferred Maupassant to Flaubert because 
Maupassant was homme du vwnde — or at any rate had f emmet 
du monde for his mistresses; and he preferred Turgenev to 


The Question of Henry James 

either because Turgenev was a quiet aristocrat and an invalid of 
the German bathing towns to the finger tips. And he liked — he 
used to say so — people who treated him with proper respect. 

Flaubert he hated with a lasting, deep rancor. Flaubert had 
once abused him unmercifully — over a point in the style of 
Prosper Merimee, of all people in the world. You may read 
about it in the Correspondence of Flaubert, and James himself 
referred to the occasion several times. It seemed to make it all 
the worse that, just before the outbreak, Flaubert should have 
opened the front door of his flat to Turgenev and James, in his 

Myself, I suppose he must have liked, because I treated him 
with deep respect, had a low voice — appeared, in short, a jeune 
homme modest e. Occasionally he would bun;t out at me with 
furious irritation, as if I had been a stupid nephew. This would 
be particularly the case if I ventured to have any opinions about 
the United States, which, at that date, I had visited mucn more 
lately than he had. I remember one occasion very vividly — the 
place, beside one of the patches of thorn on the Rye road, and 
his aspect, the brown face with the dark eyes rolling in the 
whites, the compact, strong figure, the stick raised so as to be 
dug violently into the road. He had been talking two days be- 
fore of the provincialism of Washington in the sixties. He said 
that when one descended the steps of the Capitol in those days 
on trcbuchait sur des vaches — one stumbled over cows, as if on 
a village green. Two days later, I don't know why — I happened 
to return to the subject of the provincialism of Washington of 
the sixties. He stopped as if I had hit him, and, with the coldly 
infuriated tone of a country squire whose patriotism had been 
outraged, exclaimed: 

"Don't talk such damnable nonsense!" He really shouted 
these words with a male fury. And when, slightly outraged my- 
self, I returned to the charge with his own on trcbuchait sur 
des vaches, he exclaimed: "I should not have thought you would 
have wanted to display such ignorance," and hurried off along 
the road. 

I do not suppose that this was as unreasonable a manifesta- 
tion of patriotism as it appears. No doubt he imagined me in- 


Ford Madox Ford 

capable of distinguishing between material and cultural pover- 
ties and I am fairly sure that, at the bottom of his mind lay 
the idea that in Washington of the sixties there had been some 
singularly good cosmopolitan and diplomatic conversation and 
society, whatever the cows might have done outside the Capitol. 
Indeed, I know that towards the end of his life, he came to 
think that the society of early, self-conscious New England, 
with its circumscribed horizon and want of exterior decoration 
or furnishings, was a spiritually finer thing than the mannered 
Europeanism that had so taken him to its bosom. As these years 
went on, more and more, with a sort of trepidation, he hovered 
round the idea of a return to the American scene. When I first 
knew him you could have imagined no oak more firmly planted 
in European soil. But, little by little, when he talked about 
America there would come into his tones a slight trcmulousness 
that grew with the months. I remember once he went to see 
some friends — Mrs. and Miss Lafarge, I think — off to New 
York from Tilbury Dock. He came back singularly excited, 
bringing out a great many unusually complicated sentences. 
He had gone over the liner: "And once aboard the lugger . . . 
And if . . . Say a toothbrush . . . And circular notes . . . 
And something for the night . . ." All this with a sort of dif- 
fident shamefacedness. 

I fancy that his mannerisms, his involution, whether in speech 
or in writing, were due to a settled conviction that, neither in 
his public nor in his acquaintance, would he ever find anyone 
who would not need talking down to. The desire of the artist, 
of the creative writer, is that his words and his "scenes" shall 
suggest — of course with precision — far more than they actually 
express or project. But, having found that his limpidities, from 
Daisy Miller to The Real Thing, not only suggested less than he 
desired, but carried suggestions entirely unmeant, he gave up 
the attempt at impressionism of that type — as if his audiences 
had tired him out. So he talked down to us, explaining and ex- 
plaining, the ramifications of his mind. He was aiming at cx- 
plicitncss, never at obscurities — as if he were talking to children. 

At any rate, then, he had none of that provincialism of the 
literary mind which must forever be dragging in allusions to 


The Question of Henry James 

some book or local custom. If he had found it necessary to al- 
lude to one or the other, he explained them and their prov- 
enance. In that you saw that he had learned in the same school 
as Conrad and Stephen Crane. And indeed he had. 

It has always seemed to me inscrutable that he should have 
been so frequently damned for his depicting only one phase of 
life; as if it were his fault that he was not also Conrad, to write 
of the sea, or Crane, to project the life of the New York slums. 
The Old Man knew consummately one form of life; to that he 
restricted himself. I have heard him talk with extreme exactness 
and insight of the life of the poor — at any rate of the agricul- 
tural poor, for I do not remember ever to have heard him discuss 
industrialism. But he knew that he did not. know enough to 
treat of farm laborers in his writing. So that, mostly, when he 
discoursed of these matters he put his observations in the form 
of question: "Didn't I agree to this?" "Hadn't I found that?" 

But indeed, although I have lived amongst agricultural labor- 
ers a good deal at one time or another, I would cheerfully 
acknowledge that his knowledge — at any rate of their psycholo- 
gies — had a great deal more insight than my own. He had such 
an extraordinary gift for observing minutiae — and a gift still 
more extraordinary for making people talk. I have heard the 
secretary of a golf club, a dour, silent man who never addressed 
five words to myself though I was one of his members, taik for 
twenty minutes to the Master about a new bunker that, he was 
thinking of making at the fourteenth hole. And James had 
never touched a niblick in his life. It was the same with market 
women, tram conductors, shipbuilders' laborers, auctioneers. I 
have stood by and heard them talk to him for hours. Indeed, 
I am fairly certain that he once had a murder confessed to him. 
But he needed to stand on extraordinarily firm ground before 
he would think that he knew a world. And what he knew he 
rendered, along with its amenities, its gentlefolkishness, its pet- 
tinesses, its hypocrisies, its make-believes. He gives you an im- 
mense — and an increasingly tragic — picture of a leisured society 
that is fairly unavailing, materialist, emasculated — and doomed. 
No one was more- aware of all that than he. 


Ford Madox Ford 

. Stevie * used to rail at English literature, as being one im- 
mense, petty, parlor game. Our books he used to say were writ- 
ten by men who never wanted to go out of drawing rooms for 
people who wanted to live at perpetual tea parties. Even our ad- 
venture stories, colonial fictions, and talcs of the boundless 
prairie were conducted in that spirit. The criticism was just 
enough. It was possible that James never wanted to live outside 
tea parties — but the tea parties that he wanted were debating 
circles of a splendid aloofness, of an immense human sympathy, 
and of a beauty that you do not find in Putney — or in Passy! 
It was his tragedy that no such five o'clock ever sounded for 
him on the timepiece of this world. And that is no doubt the 
real tragedy of all of us — of all societies — that we never find in 
our Spanish Castle our ideal friends living in an assured and 
permanent Republic. Crane's Utopia, but not his literary 
method, was different. He gave you the pattern in — and the 
reverse of — the carpet in physical life, in v/ars, in slums, in 
western saloons, in a world where the "gun" was the final argu- 
ment. The life that Conrad gives you is somewhere halfway be- 
tween the two; it is dominated — but less dominated — by the 
revolver than that of Stephen Crane, and dominated, but less 
dominated, by the moral scruple than that of James. But the 
approach to life is the same with all these three; they show you 
that disillusionment is to be found alike at the tea table, in the 
slum," and on the tented field. That is of great service to our 

1 Stephen Crane. Ed. 



The Mind of an Artist l 
[ 1920] 

WHEN Henry James wrote the reminiscences of his youth 
he showed conclusively, what indeed could be doubtful to 
none who knew him, that it would be impossible for anyone 
else to write his life. His life was no mere succession of facts, 
such as could be compiled and recorded by another hand; it was 
a densely knit cluster of emotions and memories, each one 
steeped in lights and colors thrown out by the rest, the whole 
making up a picture that no one but himself could dream of 
undertaking to paint. Strictly speaking this may be true of 
every human being; but in most lives experience is taken as it 
comes and left to rest in the memory where it happens to fall. 
Henry James never took anything as it came; the thing that 
happened to him was merely the point of departure for a de- 
liberate, and as time went on a more and more masterly, crea- 
tive energy, which could never leave a sight or sound of any 
kind until it had been looked at and listened to with absorbed 
attention, pondered in thought, linked with its associations, and 
which did not spend itself until the remembrance had been crys- 
tallized in expression, so that it could then be appropriated like 
a tangible object. To recall his habit of talk is to become aware 
that he never ceased creating his life in this way as it was lived; 
he was always engaged in the poetic fashioning of experience, 
turning his share of impressions into rounded and lasting images. 
From the beginning this had been his only method of dealing 
with existence, and in later years it even meant a tax upon his 
strength with which he had consciously to reckon. Not long 

1 Written as the Introduction' to The Letters of Henry James. 


Percy Lubbock 

before his death he confessed that at last he found himself too 
much exhausted for the "wear and tear of discrimination"; and 
the phrase indicates the strain upon him of the mere act of liv- 
ing. Looked at from without his life was uneventful enough, 
the even career of a man of letters, singularly fortunate in all 
his circumstances. Within, it was a cycle of vivid and incessant 
adventure, known only to himself except in so far as he himself 
put it into words. So much of it as he left unexpressed is lost, 
therefore, like a novel that he might have written, but of which 
there can now be no question, since its only possible writer is 

Fortunately a great part of it survives in his letters, and it is 
of these that his biography must be composed. The material is 
plentiful, for he was at all times a copious letter writer, over- 
flowing into swift and easy improvisation to his family and to 
the many friends with whom he corresponded regularly. Kis 
letters have been widely preserved, and several thousands of 
them have passed through my hands, ranging from his twenty- 
fifth year until within a few days of his last illness. They give as 
complete a portrait of him as we can now hope to possess. His 
was a nature in which simplicity and complexity were very 
curiously contrasted, and it would need all his own power of 
fusing innumerable details into coherency to create a picture 
that would seem sufficient to those who knew him. Yet even his 
letters, varied as they are, give full expression to one side of his 
life only, the side that he showed to the world he lived in and 
loved. After all the prodigal display of mind that is given in 
these volumes, the free outpouring of curiosity and sympathy 
and power, a close reader must still be left with the sense that 
something, the most essential and revealing strain, is little more 
than suggested here and there. The daily drama of his work, 
with all the comfort and joy it brought him, does not very often 
appear as more than an undertone to the conversation of the 
letters. It was like a mystery to which he was dedicated, but of 
which he shrank from speaking quite openly. Much as he always 
delighted in sociable communion, citizen of the world, child of 
urbanity as he was, all his friends must have felt that at heart 
he lived in solitude and that few were ever admitted into the 


i'f. The Question of Henry James 

inner shrine of his labor. There it was, nevertheless, that he lived 
most intensely and most serenely. In outward matters he was 
constantly haunted by anxiety and never looked forv/ard with 
confidence; he was of those to whom the future is always omi- 
nous, who dread the treachery of apparent calm even more than 
actual ill weather. It was very different in the presence of his 
work. There he never knew the least failure of assurance; he 
threw his full weight on the belief that supported him and it 
was never shaken. 

That belief was in the sanctity and sufficiency of the life of 
art. It was a conviction that needed no reasoning and he ac- 
cepted it without question. It was absolute for him that the 
work of the imagination was the highest and most honorable 
calling conceivable, being indeed nothing less than the actual 
creation of life out of the void. He did not scruple to claim 
that except through art there is no life that can be known or 
appraised. It is the artist who takes over the deed, so called, 
from the doer, to give it back again in the form in which it 
can be seen and measured for the first time; without the brain 
that is able to close round the loose unappropriated fact and 
render all its aspects, the fact itself does not exist for us. This - 
was the standard below which Henry James would never allow 
the conception of his office to drop, and he had the reward of ' 
complete exemption from any chill of misgiving. His life as a 
creator of art, alone with his work, was one of unclouded hap- 
piness. .It might be hampered and hindered by external acci- 
dents, but none of them could touch the real core of his security, 
which was his faith in his vocation and his knowledge of his 
genius. These certainties remained with him always, and he 
would never trifle with them in anyVnood. His impatience with 
argument on the whole aesthetic claim was equally great, 
whether it was argument in defense of the sanctuary or in . 
profanation of it. Silence, seclusion, concentration, he held to 
be the only fitting answer for an artistJ He disliked the idea 
that the service of art should be questioned and debated in the 
open, still more to see it organized and paraded and publicly 
celebrated, as though the world could do it any acceptable 
honor./ He had as little in common with those who would use 

Percy Lubbock 

the artistic profession to persuade and proselytize as with those 
who would brandish it defiantly in the face of the vulgar. 

Thus it is that he is seldom to be heard giving voice to the 
matters which most deeply occupied him. He preferred to dwell 
with them apart and to leave them behind when he emerged. 
Sometimes he would drop a word that showed what was passing 
beneath; sometimes, on a particular challenge, or to one in 
whom he felt an understanding sympathy, he would speak out 
with impressive authority. But generally he liked to enter into 
other people's thought and to meet them on their own ground. 
There his natural kindliness and his keen dramatic interest were 
both satisfied at once. He enjoyed friendship, his letters show 
how freely and expansively; and with his steady and vigilant 
eye he watched the play of character. He was insatiable for any- 
thing that others could give him from their personal lives. 
Whatever he could seize in this way was food for his own rumi- 
nating fancy; he welcomed any grain of reality, any speck of 
significance round which his imagination could pile its rings. 
It was very noticeable how promptly and eagerly he would 
reach out to such things, as they floated by in talk; it was as 
though he feared to leave them to inexpert hands and felt that 
other people could hardly be trusted with their own experience. 
He remembered how much of his time he had spent in exploring 
their consciousness when he spoke of himself as a confirmed 
spectator, one who looked on from the brink instead of plung- 
ing on his own account; but if this seemed a pale substitute for 
direct contact he knew very well that it was a much richer and 
more adventurous life, really, than it is given to most people 
to lead. There is no life to the man who does not feel it, no ad- 
venture to the man who cannot see the whole of it; the greatest 
share goes to the man who can taste it most fully, however it 
reaches him. Henry James might sometimes look back, as he cer- 
tainly did, with a touch of ruefulness in reflecting on all the ex- 
perience he had only enjoyed at second hand; but he could never 
doubt that what he had he possessed much more truly than any?^ 
of those from whom he had taken it) There was no hour in 
which he was not alive with the whole of his sensibility; he 
could scarcely persuade himself that he might have had time for 


The Question of Henry James 

mor&jAnd indeed at other moments he would admit that he 
had lived in the way that was at any rate the right way for him. 
Even his very twinges of regret were not wasted; like every- 
thing else they helped to swell the sum of life, as they did to 
such purpose for Strether, the "poor sensitive gentleman" of 
The Ambassadors, whose manner of living was very near his 

These letters, then, while they show at every point the abun- 
dant life he led in his surroundings, have to be read with the 
remembrance that the central fact of all, the fact that gave 
everything else its meaning to himself, is that of which least is 
told. The gap, moreover, cannot be filled from other sources; 
he seems to have taken pains to leave nothing behind him that 
should reveal this privacy. He put forth his finished work to 
speak for itself and swept away all the traces of its origin. There 
was a high pride in his complete lack of tenderness towards the 
evidence of past labor — the notes, manuscripts, memoranda that 
a man of letters usually accumulates and that show him in the 
company of his work. It is only to the stroke of chance which 
left two of his novels unfinished that we owe the outspoken col- 
loquies with himself, since published, over the germination of 
those stories — a door of entry into the presence of his imagina- 
tion that would have been summarily closed if he had lived to 
carry out his plan. And though in the prefaces to the collected 
edition of his works we have what is perhaps the most compre- 
hensive statement ever made of the life of art, a blographia lit- 
craria without parallel for fullness and elaboration, he was there 
dealing with his books in retrospect, as a critic from without, 
analyzing and reconstructing his own creations; or if he went 
further than this, and touched on the actual circumstances of 
their production, it was because these had for him the charm of 
an old romance, remote enough to be recalled without indiscre- 
tion. So it is that while in a sense he was the most personal of 
writers- — for he could not put three words together without 
marking them as his own and giving them the very ring of his 
voice-^-yet, compared with other such deliberate craftsmen as 
Stevenson or Gustave Flaubert, he baffles and evades curiosity 
about the private affairs of his work. If curiosity were merely 


Percy Lubbock 

futile it would be fitting to suppress the chance relic I shall offer 
in a moment — for it so happens that a single glimpse of unique 
clarity is open to us, revealing him as no one saw him in his life. 
But the attempt to picture the mind of an artist is only an in- 
trusion if it is carried into trivial and inessential things; it can K. 
never be pushed too far, as Henry James would have been the 
first to maintain, into a real sharing of his aesthetic life. 

The relic in question consists of certain penciled pages, found 
among his papers, in which he speaks with only himself for 
listener. They belong to the same order as the notes for the 
unfinished novels, but they are even more informal and confi- 
dential. Nothing else of the kind seems to have survived; the 
schemes and motives that must have swarmed in his brain, far 
too numerously for notation, have all vanished but this one. At 
Rye, some years before the end, he began one night to feel his 
way toward a novel which he had in mind — a subject afterward 
abandoned in the form projected at first. The rough notes in 
which he casts about to clear the ground are mostly filled with 
the mere details of his plan — the division of the action, the char- 
acters required, a tentative scenario. These I pass over in order 
to quote some passages where he suddenly breaks away, leaves 
his imaginary scene, and surrenders to the awe and wonder of 
finding himself again, where he has so often stood before, on the 
threshold and brink of creation. It is as though for once, at an 
hour. of midnight silence and solitude, he opened the innermost 
chamber of his mind and stood face to face with his genius. 
There is no moment of all his days in which it is now possible to 
approach him more closely. Such a moment represented to him- 
self the pith of life — the first tremor of inspiration, in which he 
might be almost afraid to stir or breathe, for fear of breaking 
the spell, if it were not that he goes to meet it with a peculiar 

"I take this up again after an interruption — I in fact throw 
myself upon it under the secousse of its being brought home to 
me even more than I expected that my urgent material reasons 
for getting settled at productive work again are of the very 
most imperative. Je m'entends — I have had a discomfiture 


The Question of Henry James ' 

(through a stupid misapprehension of my own indeed;) and I 
must now take up projected tasks — this long time entrevus and 
brooded over, with the firmest possible hand. I needn't expatiate 
on this — on the sharp consciousness of this hour of the dimly 
dawning New Year, I mean; I simply make an appeal to all the 
powers and forces and divinities to whom I've ever been loyal 
and who haven't failed me yet — after all: never, never yet !| In- 
finitely interesting — and yet somehow with a beautiful sharp 
poignancy in it that makes it strange and rather exquisitely 
formidable, as with an unspeakable deep agitation, the whole ar- 
tistic question that comes up for me in the train of this idea 
... of the donnce_{or a situation that I began here the other 
day to fumble outJI mean I come back, I come back yet again and 
again, to my only seeing it in the dramatic way — as I can only 
sec everything and anything now; the way that filled my mind 
and floated and uplifted me when a fortnight ago I gave my few 
indications to X. Momentary side-winds — things of no real 
authority — break in every now and then to put their inferior 
little questions to me; but I come back, I come back, as I say, 
I all throbbingly and yearningly and passionately, oh mon bon, 
come back to this way that is clearly the only one in which I 
can do anything now, and that will open out to me more and 
more, and that has overwhelming reasons pleading ail beauti- 
fully in its breast. What really happens is that the closer I get 
to the problem of the application of it in any particular case, 
the more I get into that application, so that the more doubts 
and torments fall away from me, the more I know where I am, 
the more everything spreads and shines and draws me on and 
I'm justified of my logic and my passion. . . . Causons, cau- 
sons, mon bon — oh celestial, soothing, sanctifying process, with 
all the high sane forces of the sacred time fighting, through it, 
on my side! Let me fumble it gently and patiently out — with 
fever and fidget laid to rest — as in all the old enchanted monthslj 
It only looms, it only shines and shimmers, too beautiful and 
too interesting; it only hangs there too rich and too full and 
with too much to give and to pay; it only presents itself too 
admirably and too vividly, too straight and square and vivid, as 
a little organic and effective Action. . . . 


Percy Lubbock 

"Thus just these first little wavings of the oh so tremulously 
passionate little old wand (now!) make for me, I feel, a sort of 
promise of richness and beauty and variety; a sort of portent 
of the happy presence of the elements. The good days of last 
August and even my broken September and my better October 
come back to me with their gauge of divine possibilities, and I 
welcome these to my arms, I press them with unutterable ten- 
derness. I seem to emerge from these recent bad days — the fruit 
of blind accident — and the prospect clears and flushes, and my 
poor blest old Genius pats me so admirably and lovingly on the 
back that I turn, I screw round, and bend my lips to passionately, 
in my gratitude, kiss its hands." 
; \ 

To the exaltation of this wonderful unbosoming he had been 
brought by fifty years of devout and untiring service. Where 
so little is heard of it all, the amount of patience and energy 
that he had consecrated to it might easily be mistaken. His im- 
mense industry all through his crowded London years passes al- 
most unnoticed, so little it seems to conflict with this life in the 
world, his share in which, with the close friendships he formed 
and the innumerable relations he cultivated, could have been no 
fuller if he had had nothing to do but to amuse himself with 
the spectacle. In one way, however, it is possible to divine how 
heavily the weight^of his work pressed on him. The change that 
divides the general tone and accent of his younger and middle 
age from that of his later years is too striking to be overlooked. 
The impression is unmistakable that for a long while, indeed 
until he was almost an old man, he felt the constant need of 
husbanding and economizing his resources; so that except to 
those who knew him intimately he was apt to seem a little cold 
and cautious, hesitating to commit himself freely or to allow 
promiscuous claims. Later on all this was very different. There 
were certain habits of reserve, perhaps, that he never threw off; 
all his friends remember, for example, how carefully he distin- 
guished the different angles of his affection, so to call them — 
adjusting his various relations as though in fear lest they should 
cross each other and form an embarrassing complexity. Yet any 
scruples or precautions of this sort that still hung about him 


The Question of Henry James 

only enhanced the large and genial authority of his presence. 
There seemed to have come a time when after long preparation 
and cogitation he was able to relax and to enjoy the fruit of his 
labor. Not indeed that his labor was over; it never was that, 
while strength lasted; but he gave the effect of feeling himself 
to be at length completely the master of his situation, at ease 
and at home in his world. The new note is very perceptible in 
the letters, which broaden out with opulent vigor as time goes 
on, reaching their best comparatively late. 

That at last he felt at home was doubtless indeed the literal 
truth, and it was enough to account for this ample liberation 
of spirit. His decision to settle in Europe, the great step of his 
life, was inevitable, though it was not taken without long reflec- 
tion; but it was none the less a decision for which he had to pay 
heavily, as he was himself very well aware. If he regarded his 
own part as that of an onlooker, the sense in which he under- 
stood observation was to the highest degree exacting. He 
watched indeed, but he watched with every faculty, and he in- 
tended that every thread of intelligence he could throw out to 
seize the truth of the old historic world should be as strong as 
instruction, study, general indoctrination could make it. It 
would be useless for him to live where, the human drama most 
attracted him unless he could grasp it with an assured hand; 
and he could never do this if he was to remain a stranger and a 
sojourner, merely feeding on the picturesque surface of appear- 
ances. To justify his expatriation he must work his own life 
completely into the texture of his new surroundings, and the 
story of his middle years is to be read as the most patient and 
laborious of attempts to do so. Its extraordinary success need 
hardly be insisted on; its failure, necessary and foredoomed, 
from certain points of view, is perhaps not less obvious. But 
the great fact of interest is the sight of him taking up the task 
with eyes, it is needless to say, fully open to all its demands, 
and never resting until he could be certain of having achieved 
all that was possible. So long as he was in the thick of it, the 
task occupied the whole of his attention. He took it with full 
seriousness; there never was a scholar more immersed in re- 
search than was Henry James in the study of his chosen world. 


Percy Lubbock 

There were times indeed when he might be thought to take it 
even more seriously than the case required. The world is not 
used to such deference from a rare critical talent, and it cer- 
tainly has much less respect for its own standards than Henry 
James had, or seemed to have. His respect was, of course, very 
freely mingled with irony, and yet it would be rash to say that 
his irony preponderated. He probably felt that this, in his con- 
dition, was a luxury which he could only afford within limits. 
He could never forget that he had somehow to make up to him- 
self for arriving as an alien from a totally different social cli- 
mate; for his own satisfaction he had to wake and toil while 
others slept, keeping his ever-ready and rebellious criticism for 
an occasional hour of relief. 

The world with which he thus sought to identify himself 
was a small affair, by most of our measurements. It was a circle 
of sensibilities that, it might be easy to dismiss as hypertrophicd 
and over-civilized, too deeply smothered in the veils of arti- 
ficial life to repay so much patient attention. Yet the little 
world of urbane leisure satisfied him because he found a livelier 
interest, always, in the results and effects and implications of 
things than in the groundwork itself; so that the field of study 
he desired was that in which initial forces had traveled furthest 
from their prime, passing step by step from their origin to the 
level where, diffused and transformed, they were still just dis- 
cernible to acute perception. It is not through any shy timidity 
that so often in his books he requires us to infer the presence 
of naked emotion from the faintest stirrings of an all but un- 
ruffled surface; it is because these monitory signals, transmitted 
from so far, tell a story that would be weakened by a directer 
method. The tiny movement that is the last expression of an act 
or a fact carries within it the history of all it has passed through 
on the way — a treasure of interest that the act, the fact in 
itself, had not possessed. And so in the social scene, wherever its 
crude beginnings have been left furthest behind, wherever its 
forms have been most rubbed and toned by the hands of suc- 
ceeding generations, there he found, not an obliteration of sharp 
character, but a positive enhancement of it, with the whole of 
its past crowded into its bosom. The kind of life, therefore, that 


The Question of Henry James 

might have been thought too trifling to bear the weight of his 
grave and powerful scrutiny was exactly the life that he pur- 
sued for its expressive value. He clung to civilization, he was 
faithful throughout to a few yards of town-pavement, not be- 
cause he was scared by the rough freedom of the wild, but 
rather because he was impatient of its insipidity. lie is very 
often to be heard crying out against the tyrannous claims of his 
world, when they interfere with his work, his leisure, his health; 
but at the moment of greatest revulsion he never suggests that 
the claims may be fraudulent after all, or that this small corner 
of modernity is not the best and most fruitful that the age has 
to show. 

It must be a matter of pride to an English reader that this 
corner happened to be found among ourselves. Henry James 
came to London, however, more by a process of exhaustion than 
by deliberate choice, and plenty of chastening considerations for 
a Londoner will appear in his letters. If he elected to live among 
thick English wits rather than in any nimbler atmosphere, it 
was at first largely because English ways and manners lay more 
open to an explorer than the closer, compacter societies of the 
mainland. Gradually, as. we know well, his affection v/as kindled 
into devoted loyalty. It remained true, none the \ess y that with 
much that is common ground among educated people of our 
time and place he was never' really in touch. One has only to 
think of the part played, in the England he frequented, by 
school and college, by country homes, by church and politics 
and professions, to understand how much of the ordinary con- 
sciousness was closed to him. Yet it is impossible to say that 
these limitations were imposed on him only because he was a 
stranger among strangers; they belonged to the conditions of his 
being from much further back. They were implied in his queer 
unanchored youth, in which he and his greatly gifted family 
had been able to grow in the free exercise of their talents with- 
out any of the foundations of settled life. Henry James's genius 
opened and flourished in the void. His ripe wisdom and culture 
seemed, to have been able to dispense entirely with the mere 
training that most people require before they can feel secure 
in their critical outlook and sense of proportion. There could be 

[6 4 ] 

Percy Lubbock 

no better proof of the fact that imagination, if only there is 
enough of it, will do the work of all the other faculties unaided. 
Whatever were the gaps in his knowledge — knowledge of life 
generally, and of the life of the mind in particular — his imagi- 
nation covered them all. And so it was that without even ac- 
quiring a thousand things that go to the making of a full ex- 
perience and a sound taste, he yet enjoyed and possessed every- 
thing that it was in them to give. 

His taste, indeed, his judgment of quality, seems to have been 
bestowed upon him in its essentials like a gift of nature. From 
the very first he was sure of his taste and could account for it. 
His earliest writing shows, if anything, too large a portion of 
tact and composure; a critic might have said that such a perfect 
control of his means was not the most hopeful sign in a young 
author. Henry James reversed the usual procedure of a begin- 
ner, keeping warily to matter well within his power of man- 
agement — and this is observable too in his early letters — until 
he was ready to deal with matter more robust. In his instinct 
for perfection he never went wrong — never floundered into 
raw enthusiasms, never lost his way, never had painfully to re- 
cover himself; he traveled steadily forward with no need of 
guidance, enriching himself with new impressions and wasting 
none of them. He accepted nothing that did not minister in 
some way to the use of his gifts; whatever struck him as im- 
possible to assimilate to these he passed by without a glance. He 
could not be tempted by any interest unrelated to the central 
line of his work. He had enough even so, he felt, to occupy a 
dozen lives, and he grudged every moment that did not leave 
its deposit of stuff appropriate to his purpose. The play of his 
thought was so ample and ardent that it disguised his resolute 
concentration; he responded so lavishly and to so much that 
he seemed ready to take up and transform and adorn whatever 
was offered him. But this in truth was far from the fact, and 
by shifting the recollection one may see the impatient gesture 
with which he would sweep aside the distraction that made no 
appeal to him. It was natural that he should care nothing for 
any abstract speculation or inquiry; he was an artist through- 
out, desiring only the refracted light of human imperfection, 


The Question of Henry James 

never the purity of colorless reason. More surprising was his re- 
fusal, for it was almost that, of the appeal of music — and not 
wordless music only, but even the song and melody of poetry. 
It cannot be by accident that poetry scarcely appears at all in 
such a picture of a literary life as is given by his letters. The 
purely lyrical ear seems to have been strangely sealed in him — 
he often declared as much himself. And poetry in general, 
though he could be deeply stirred by it, he inclined to put away 
from him, perhaps for the very reason that it meant too forcible 
a deflection from the right line of his energy. All this careful 
gathering up of his powers, in any case, this determined deaf- 
ness to irrelevant voices, gave a commanding warrant to the 
critical panoply of his later life. His certainty and consistency, 
his principle, his intellectual integrity — by all these the pitch 
of his opinions, wherever he delivered them, reached a height 
that was unforgettably impressive. 

I have tried to touch, so far as possible, on the different 
strains in Henry James's artistic experience; but to many who 
read these letters it will be another aspect altogether that his 
name first recalls. They will remember how much of his life 
was lived in his relations with his countless friends, and how 
generously he poured out his best for them. But if, as I have 
suggested, much of his mind appears fitfully and obscurely in 
his letters, this side is fully irradiated from first to last. Never, 
surely, has any circle of friendship received so magnificent a 
tribute of expressed affection and sympathy. It was lavished 
from day to day, and all the resources of his art were drawn 
upon to present it with due honor. As time goes on a kind of 
personal splendor shines through the correspondence, which 
only becomes more natural, more direct a communication of 
himself, as it is uttered with increasing mastery. The familiar 
form of the letter was changed under his hand into what may 
really be called a new province of art, a revelation of possibilities 
hitherto unexplored. Perfect in expression as they arc, these 
letters arc true extemporizations, thrown off always at great 
speed, as though with a single sweep of the hand, for all their 
richness of texture and roundness of phrase. At their most char- 
acteristic they are like free flights of virtuosity, flung out with 


Percy Lubbock 

enjoyment in the hours of a master's ease; and the abundance 
of his creative vigor is shown by the fact that there should 
always be so much more of it to spare, even after the exhausting 
strain of his regular work. But the greater wonder is that this 
liberal gesture never became mechanical, never a fixed manner 
displayed for any and all alike, without regard to the particular 
mind addressed. Not for a moment does he forget to whom he 
is speaking; he writes in the thought of his correspondent, al- 
ways perceptibly turning to that relation, singled out for the 
time from all the rest. Each received of his best, but some pe- 
culiar, inalienable share in it. 

If anything can give to those who did not know him an im- 
pression of Henry James's talk, it will be some of the finest of 
these later letters. One difference indeed is immediately to be 
marked. His pondering hesitation as he talked, his search over 
the whole field of expression for the word that should do jus- 
tice to the picture forming in his mind — this gives place in the 
letters to a flow unchecked, one sonorous phrase uncoiling itself 
after another without effort. Pen in hand, or, as he finally pre- 
ferred, dictating to his secretary, it was apparently easier for 
him to seize upon the images he sought to detach, one by one, 
from the clinging and populous background of his mind. In 
conversation the effort seemed to be greater, and nave in rare 
moments of exceptional fervor — no one who heard him will 
forget how these recurred more and more in the last year of 
his life, under the deep excitement of the war — he liked to take 
his time in working out his thought with due deliberation. But 
apart from this, the letters exactly reflect the color and con- 
,tour of his talk — his grandiose courtesy, his luxuriant phrase- 
ology, his relish for some extravagantly colloquial turn embed- 
ded in a Ciceronian period, his humor at once so majestic and 
so burly. Intercourse with him was not quite easy, perhaps; his 
style was too hieratic, too richly adorned and arrayed for that. 
But it was enough to surrender simply to the current of his 
thought; the listener felt himself gathered up and cared for — 
felt that Henry James assumed all the responsibility and would 
deal with the occasion in his own way. That way was never to 

[6 7 ] 

The Question of Henry James 

give a mere impersonal display of his own, but to create and 
develop a reciprocal relation, to both sides of which, he was 
more than capable of doing the fullest justice. No words seem 
satisfactory in describing the dominance he exerted over any 
scene in which he figured — yet exerted by no overriding or ig- 
noring of the presence of others, rather with the quickest, most 
apprehending susceptibility to it. But better than by any de- 
scription is this memory imparted by the eloquent roll and ring 
of his letters. 

He grew old in the honor of a wide circle of friends of all 
ages, and of a public which, if small, was deeply devoted. He 
stood so completely outside the evolution of English literature 
that his position was special and unrelated, but it was a posi- 
tion at last unanimously acknowledged. Signs of the admiration 
and respect felt for him by all who held the belief in the art of 
letters, even by those whose line of development most diverged 
from his — these he unaffectedly enjoyed, and many came to 
him. None the less he knew very well that in all he most cared 
for, in what was to him the heart and essence of life, he was 
solitary to the end. However much his work might be ap- 
plauded, the spirit of rapt and fervent faith in which it was 
conceived was a hermitage, so he undoubtedly felt, that no one 
else had perceived or divined. His story of the Figure in the 
Carpet was told of himself; no one brought him what he could 
accept as true and final comprehension. He could never there- 
fore feci that he had reached a time when his work was finished 
and behind him. Old age only meant an imagination more 
crowded than ever, a denser throng of shapes straining to be 
released before it was too late. He bitterly resented the hin- 
drances of ill health, during some of his last years, as an inter- 
ruption, a curtailment of the span of his activity; there were 
so many and so far better books that he still wished to write. 
His interest in life, growing rather than weakening, clashed 
against the artificial restraints, as they seemed, of physical age; 
whenever these were relaxed, it leaped forward to work again. 
The challenge of the war with Germany roused him to a height 
of passion he had never touched before in the outer world; and 


Percy Lubbock 

if the strain of it exhausted his strength, as well it might, it 
gave him one last year of the fullest and deepest experience, 
perhaps, that he had ever known. It wore out his body, which 
was too tired and spent to live longer; but he carried away the 
power of his spirit still in its prime. 


*, ^ 


The Aesthetic Idealism of Henry James 


"TVTO one has the faintest conception of what I am trying 
-L ^! for," says the celebrated author in The Death of the 
Lion, "and not many have read three pages that I've written; 
but I must dine with them first — they'll find out when they've- 
time." The words are tinged with Henry James's own disdain of 
the fashionable world which wears, and wears out, a man of 
genius like a spangle on its robe. Perhaps twenty years ago every- 
one had read, or had attempted to read, a recent novel of his; 
but there has come up a generation of young people who have 
been permitted, with the connivance of critics, to concede the 
excellence of his earlier productions and the "impossibility" of 
his later ones without looking into either. Shortly before his 
death he emerged for the general public from his obscure memoir 
writing, and stood for a moment conspicuous on the skyline — 
a dark, august figure bowed in devout allegiance beneath the 
English flag; then with a thunder of ordnance not made for his 
passing he slipped below the horizon. In the hour of trial he had 
given to England a beautiful gesture which derived much of its 
interest from his lifelong refusal to commit himself to any 
cause but art. Though the adoption of English citizenship by an 
American would have excited in ordinary circumstances the 
profane wit of our paragraph writers, the gravity of this occa- 
sion chastened them; and when, a few months later, his death 
called for comment, many of them clutched at this transferal 
of allegiance as the last, if not the only, intelligible performance 
of his that was known to them. Some of them, to be sure, re- 
memhered, or said they remembered, "Daisy Miller as a "perfect 


Stuart P. Sherman 

little tKing of its kind," or professed a not unpleasant acquaint- 
ance with The Portrait of a Lady, or even exhibited a vague 
consciousness that the novelist had treated extensively the "in- 
ternational situation"; but in general they betrayed their "un- 
prcparedness" for defining his talent and valuing his accom- 

Criticism should have declared by this time, and should have 
declared with emphasis and authority, what Henry James was 
"trying for." It should also have declared whether, when he 
slipped below the horizon, he sank into the deepening shadows 
of literary history, or whether he passed on into a widening 
world of light — the Great Good Place of a grateful and enlight- 
ened posterity which will not dine with him but which will read 
him. May we securely let him pass while we go on to something 
better; or shall we find, if we go on, that he is the something 
better to which we come at last? There arc wide differences of 
opinion in the critical jury. Mr. Brownell, who has said a mul- 
titude of penetrating things about his mind and his art, and 
who is, one should suppose, the critic in America best qualified 
to enjoy and to value him, does not conceal his quiet hope and 
expectation that among the novelists of the future we shall not 
meet his like again. Professor Pattee, who is "out" for American 
local colors and big native American ideas, declares in so many 
words that Henry James's novels "really accomplish nothing." 
Recent English criticism strikes up in another key. Air. Ford 
Madox HuefTcr promises him immortality, if there is any im- 
mortality for extraordinarily fine work — a point about which 
he is doubtful; but he struggles to his handsome conclusion 
through such fantastic arguments, with such explosions of tem- 
per and erratic judgment, through such a stream of "God-for- 
bid's" and "Thank-god's" and "God-knows's," with such osten- 
tatious self-advertisement, and with such a display of the "new 
vulgarity," the new literary bad manners, that one wonders 
how he ever came to occupy himself with an author so dedicated 
to refinement. The little book of Miss Rebecca West, an acutely 
positive and intensely glowing young "intellectual," has de- 
lightful merits: its adverse criticism is cuttingly phrased if not 
always precisely keen, its appreciative passages are full of fresh 


The Question of Henry James 

ardor and luminous if not always illuminating imagery; it holds 
up a candle and swings a censer in the principal niches and 
chapels of the wide-arching cathedral upon which the builder 
toiled for half a century; but it rather evades the task of pre- 
senting a central and comprehensive view — of explaining, in 
short, in the honor of what deity the whole edifice was con- 

Let us cut an avenue to the inner shrine by removing from 
consideration some of the objects for which most of Henry 
James's American and English compatriots profess a pious ven- 
eration. He has insulted all the popular gods of democratic 
society — for example, the three persons of the French revolu- 
tionary trinity and the "sovereign people" collectively. Captain 
Sholto, almost unique among his characters in uttering a politi- 
cal thought, must express pretty nearly his creator's position 
when he says, "I believe those that are on top the heap are better 
than those that are under it, that they mean to stay there, and 
that if they are not a pack of poltroons they will." It would be 
difficult to name an American author more nearly devoid of 
emotional interest in the general mass of humanity. His attitude 
toward the "submerged tenth" is chiefly established by his 
silence with regard to it. In The Princess Casamassima, one of 
the rare places in which he permits a view of the dark nether- 
ward of society to fall upon the eye of a sensitive observer, this 
is the reported reaction: "Some of the women and girls, in par- 
ticular, were appalling — saturated with alcohol and vice, brutal, 
bedraggled, obscene. 'What remedy but another deluge, what 
alchemy but annihilation?' he asked himself as he went his way; 
and he wondered what fate there could be, in the great scheme 
of things, for a planet overgrown with such vermin, what re- 
demption but to be hurled against a ball of consuming fire." 
The passage is a little deficient — is it not? — in warm fraternal 
feeling. Let us round out this impression with the reported reac- 
tion of a sensitive observer in The Madonna of the Future to a 
glimpse of free life in Rome: "Cats and monkeys, monkeys and 
cats; all human life is there!" 


Stuart P. Sherman 

These sensitive observers doubtless had cause for a shudder of 
revulsion, and dramatic reason as well. Their behavior becomes 
interesting when one compares it with James's personal account 
in London Notes of his own attitude towards a very different 
scene — the preparations for Victoria's Jubilee. "The foremost, 
the immense impression is, of course, the constant, the per- 
manent, the ever-supreme — the impression of that greatest 
glory of our race, its passionate feeling for trade. . . . London 
has found in this particular chapter of the career of its aged 
sovereign only an enormous selfish advertisement." Later he re- 
ports that he has been taking refuge from the Jubilee in novel 
reading. The great thing to be said for the novelists, he adds, is 
"that at any given moment they offer us another world, another 
consciousness, an experience that, as effective as the dentist's 
ether, muffles the ache of the actual and, by helping us to an 
interval, tides us over and makes us face, in the return to the 
inevitable, a combination that may at least have changed." Was 
it a pose to speak of fiction as an ethereal pause in the midst of 
the perpetual toothache of the actual — and of a great patriotic 
demonstration as a peculiarly sharp toothache? Or was it 
"American humor"? I do not remember that anyone has 
charged James with being a poseur. The pose at any rate is curi- 
ously of a piece with his saying to John Hay, who had been re- 
ceived with an "ovation" on his arrival in Southampton, "What 
impression does it make in your mind to have these insects 
creeping about you and saying things to you?" 

A partial explanation of this disgust and this detachment 
from the major interests of the majority of men may be found 
in a half-dozen familiar facts of his biographical record. His 
whole life was an evasion of circumstances. The ordinary road 
to character in a democracy is through struggle and conflict. 
The ordinary man is molded, battered, or squeezed into his shape 
by struggling for an education, a livelihood, a wife, a family, 
a "place in the world." As he approaches middle age he finds 
himself becoming stable, adjusted, solid through the complex 
pressure of commonplace responsibilities as husband, parent, 
businessman, vestryman, property owner, and voter and payer 
of taxes. In order to hold up his head he has had to put down 


The Question of Henry James 

his roots among all the institutional bases of society; he has had 
to become vitally attached to the all-embracing not-himself. 
The leading idea in the elder James's plan for his son's life seems 
to have been to rescue him from the typical democratic process 
in order to open to him some finer destiny: to provide him with 
comfortable means and ample leisure, to save him from every 
exacting pressure, to preserve him from the stamp of any defi- 
nite educational system, by perpetual migrations to snap the 
root of local attachments, to postpone for him as long as pos- 
sible the choice of a career, so that at last the young man should 
be whatever he was and do whatever he did by the free impulse 
of his Own spirit. The perfect working of this plan was prob- 
ably marred by a physical accident at the time of the Civil War, 
which, as Henry James circuitously explains, assigned him to 
the role of an engrossed spectator. Whatever the significance of 
this incident, the result of the plan of tasting life in New York, 
Boston, Geneva, London, Paris, Rome, Florence, and Venice was 
to set up an endless process of observation, comparison, discrimi- 
nation, selection, and appreciation — a process which for this 
highly civilized, highly sensitized young spirit, became all ab- 
sorbing, and made of him a fastidious connoisseur of experience, 
an artistic celibate to whose finer sense promiscuous mixing in 
the gross welter of the world was wearisome and unprofitable. 
There is no getting round the fact that he was as prodigiously 
"superior" inside as he was outside the field of art. In his recent, 
much-quoted essay on the new novel he has the air of a con- 
scious old master condescending for the nonce to notice "the 
rough and tumble 'output'" of the young vulgar democratic 
herd. A false note in Miss West's treatment of his character is 
her remark that he lacked "that necessary attribute of the good 
critic, the power to bid bad authors to go to the devil." Mr. 
Brownell, on the other hand, puts him at the head of American 
criticism. He sent authors to their appropriate places so civilly 
and suavely that they probably failed frequently to notice 
v/here they were sent; but no critic ever more remorselessly sent 
to the devil bad authors, mediocre authors, and even very dis- 
tinguished authors. In his later years, he very blandly, very 
courteously, sent the whole general public to the devil. He was 


Stuart P. Sherman 

mortally weary of the general public's obtuseness; he despaired 
of the general public and despised it. At the same time he reit- 
erated in his stories, his critical articles, and in the prefaces to 
the New York edition of his work challenges and entreaties to 
the critical few to come and find him. 


In that fascinating work The Figure in the Carpet he depicts, 
for criticism, what he would have called his own "case." He 
presents there, amid various intensifications of interest, Hugh 
Vereker, a master novelist, head and shoulders above his con- 
temporaries; so that even his devoutest admirers and his most 
studious critics miss the thing that he has written his books 
"most for." "Isn't there," he says to one of them, "for every 
writer a particular thing of that sort, the thing that most makes 
him apply himself, the thing without the effort to achieve which 
he wouldn't write at all, the very passion of his passion, the part 
of the business in which, for him, the flame of art burns most 
intensely? . . . There's an idea in my work without which I 
wouldn't have given a straw for the whole job. ... It 
stretches, this little trick of mine, from book to book, and 
everything else comparatively plays over the surface of it. The 
order, the form, the texture of my books will perhaps constitute 
for the initiated a complete representation of it. So it is natu- 
rally the tiling for the critic to look for. It strikes me," Vereker 
adds — smiling but inscrutable, "even as the thing for the critic 
to find." 

The thing which, as it seems to me, James hoped chiefly that 
his critics would some day recognize is not that he is a great 
stylist, or a learned historian of manners, or the chief of the 
realists, or a master of psychological analysis. All these things 
have been noted and asserted by various more or less irreligious 
strollers through that cathedral-like edifice to which we have 
likened his works. The thing which he, as the high priest sol- 
emnly ministering before the high altar, implored someone to 
observe and to declare is that he adored beauty and absolutely^ 
nothing else in the world. To the discovery of beauty he dedi- 

The Question of Henry James 

cates his observation, his analysis, his marvelous and all too little 
recognized imaginative energy. That is why he sends the rest of 
the world to the devil, that is his romance, that is his passion, 
that is why when he discusses his own creations he talks veri- 
tably like a soul in bliss. The intimate relation of his fiction to 
modern realities beguiles the uncritical reader into an erroneous 
notion that he is a "transcriber," a literal copyist, of life. What 
in his prefaces he begs us again and again to believe is that his 
stories originated in mere granules and germs of reality blown 
by chance breezes to the rich soil of the garden of his imagina- 
tion, where they took root, and sprang up, and flowered; then 
they were transplanted with infinite art to the garden of litera- 
ture. What he offers us, as he repeatedly suggests, is a thousand- 
fold better than life; it is an escape from life. It is an escape 
from the undesigned into the designed, from chaos into order, 
from the undiscriminated into the finely assorted, from the 
languor of the irrelevant to the intensity of the pertinent. It 
is not reality; he goes so far as to say quite expressly that it is 
poetry. If that is true, his novels should, in spite of Professor 
Pattee, "accomplish" something; they should give us on the one 
hand an ideal, and on the other hand a criticism; and they do 
give us both. Henry James's importance for Anglo-Saxons in 
general and for Americans in particular is that he is the first 
novelist writing in English to offer us on a grand scale a purely 
aesthetic criticism of modern society and modern fiction. 

His special distinction among writers of prose fiction is in the 
cxclusivcncss of his consecration to beauty — a point which in 
this connection probably requires elucidation. To the religious 
consciousness all things are ultimately holy or unholy; to the 
moral consciousness all things arc ultimately good or evil; to the 
scientific consciousness all things are ultimately true or not true; 
to Henry James all things are ultimately beautiful or ugly. In 
few men but fanatics and geniuses does any one type of con- 
sciousness hold undivided sway, and even among the geniuses 
and fanatics of the English race the pure aesthetic type was, till 
Ruskin's time, excessively rare. The normal English conscious- 

ness is, for purposes of j 
and courts, to each of 

udgment, a courthouse of several floors 
which are distributed the cases proper 


Stuart P. Sherman 

to that jurisdiction. In the criticism of Matthew Arnold, for 
example, there are distinct courts for the adjudication of spir- 
itual, ecclesiastical, moral, aesthetic, political, social, and scien- 
tific questions; but Ruskin handles all matters in the aesthetic 
chamber. In Shakespeare's criticism of life, to take the case of a 
creative artist, the discrimination of experience proceeds on 
clearly distinguishable levels of consciousness; the exquisite 
judgment of Sylvia — "holy, fair, and wise is she" — is a certifi- 
cate of character from three distinct courts. But Henry James, 
on the contrary, receives and attempts to judge all 'the kinds of 
his experience on the single crowded, swarming, humming level 
of the aesthetic consciousness; the apartments above and below 
are vacant. 

It is a much simpler task to indicate his position in literature 
with reference to the nature of his consciousness than with ref- 
erence to the forms of his art. Critics attempting to "place" him 
have said the most bewildering things about his relationship to 
Richardson, Dickens, George Eliot, Trollone, George Meredith, 
Stevenson, Turgcncv, Balzac, the Goncourts, Flaubert, Mnupas- 
sant, Zola, and Daudct. To say that he is the disciple of this 
galaxy is to say everything and nothing. He knew intimately 
modern literature and many of its producers in England, 
France, Italy, and Russia, and he is related to them all as we are 
all related to Adam — and to the sun and the moon and the 
weather. He doubtless learned something of art from each of 
them, for he took instruction wherever he could find it — even 
from "Gyp," as he blushingly confesses in the preface to The 
Awkward Age, But what different gods were worshiped in this 
galaxy! Even Meredith, who resembles him iii his psychological 
inquisitiveness, docs not in nine-tenths of his novels remotely 
resemble him in form; moreover, Meredith is a moralist, a sage, 
a mystic, and a lyrical worshiper of Life, Nature, and other such 
loose divinities. James called Balzac "the master of us all," he 
called Turgenev "the beautiful genius," he sympathized in- 
tensely with Flaubert's dedication to perfection; but his total 
representation of life is not much more like that of any of his 
"masters" than George Eliot's is like Zola's. 

It is a curious fact that, while American criticism tends to 


The Question of Henry James 

refer Kim to Europe, English criticism tends to refer him to 
America. A pretty argument, indeed, could be constructed to 
prove that he might have been very much what he was, if he 
had not gone body and soul to Europe, but had simply roved 
up and dov/n the Atlantic Coast comparing the grave conscience 
of Boston and the open and skyey mind of Concord with the 
luxurious body and vesture of New York and the antique "gen- 
tility" of Richmond — comparing the harvested impressions of 
these scenes, and weaving into new patterns the finer threads 
which American tradition had put into his hands: Hawthorne's 
brooding moral introspection, his penetration of the shadowed 
quietudes of the heart, his love of still people and quiet places, 
his golden thread of imagery beaded with brave symbolism, the 
elaborated euphony of his style; Irving's bland pleasure in the 
rich surface of things, his delight in manorial dwellings, his 
sense of the glamour of history, his temperamental and stylistic 
mellowness and clarity, his worldly, well-bred air of being "at 
ease in Zion"; Poe's artistic exclusiveness, his artistic intelligence, 
his intensity, his conscious craftsmanship, his zest for discussing 
the creative process and the technique of literature. As a matter 
of fact, Henry James does "join on" to the eastern American 
traditions; he gathers up all these enumerated threads; he as- 
similates all these forms of consciousness. Hawthorne plays into 
his hands for depth and inwardness, Irving for outwardness and 
enrichment, and Poe for vividness and intensity. 

The result of this fusion of types is a spacious and "richly 
sophisticated" type of the aesthetic consciousness of which the 
closest English analogue is the consciousness of Walter Pater. 
James is like Pater in his aversion from the world, his dedication 
to art, his celibacy, his personal decorum and dignity, his high 
aesthetic seriousness, his Epicurean relish in receiving and re- 
porting the multiplicity and intensity of his impressions, and in 
the exacting closeness of his style. There are distinctions in 
plenty to be made by anyone curious enough to undertake the 
comparison; but on the whole there is no better sidelight on 
James's "philosophy" than Pater's conclusion to The Renais- 
sance and his Plato and Vlatonhm; no better statement of his 
general literary ideals than Pater's essay on style; no more in- 


Stuart P. Sherman 

teresting "parallel" to his later novels than Metritis, the Epi- 
curean and Imaginary Portraits. To make the matter a little 
more specific let the curious inquirer compare the exposure of 
Pater's consciousness, which is ordinarily known as his descrip- 
tion of Mona Lisa, with the exposure of James's consciousness, 
which is ordinarily known as the description of a telegraph 
operator (/// the Cage). 


The reduction of all experience to the aesthetic level James 
himself recognized as a hazardous adventure. At the conclusion 
of his searching criticism of a fellow adventurer, Gabriele 
D'Annunzio, he raises the question whether it can ever hope to 
be successful. D'Annunzio's adventure he pronounces a dismal 
failure — that is, of course, an aesthetic failure; for in the quest 
of the beauty of passion the Italian, he declares, has produced 
the effect of a box of monkeys or, as he pcriphrastically puts it, 
"The association rising before us more nearly than any other 
is that of the manners observable in the most mimetic depart- 
ment of any great menagerie." But, he continues, the question 
is whether D'Annunzio's case is "the only case of the kind con- 
ceivable. May we not suppose another with the elements dif- 
ferently mixed? May we not in imagination alter the propor- 
tions within or the influences without, and look with cheerful- 
ness for a different issue. Need the aesthetic adventure, in a 
word, organized for real discovery, give us no more comforting 
news of success? ... To which probably the sole answer is that 
no man can say." 

The last sentence is modest, but cannot have been wholly sin- 
cere; for James must have known that his own works answer 
all these questions in the affirmative. His own case is an alto- 
gether different variety of the species; his "news" is infinitely 
more comforting than D'Annunzio's. The particular ugliness, 
the morbid erotic obsession, on which D'Annunzio foundered, 
James, like Pater, sailed serenely by. His aesthetic vision had a 
far wider range and a far higher level of observation than that 
of almost any of the Latin votaries of "art for art" — Gautier or 
Flaubert, for example. And yet, let us admit it frankly once for 


The Question of Henry James 

all, his representation of life offends the whole-souled critical 
sense intensely in some particulars and on what is fundamentally 
the same ground as that on which these others offend it. His 

- representation of life is an aesthetic flat; it sins against the di- 
versity, the thick rotundity, the integrity of life. Its exquisitely 
arranged scenes and situations and atmospheres arc not infre- 
quently "ugly/* as he would say, with the absence of moral en- 
ergy and action. In The 'Awkward Age, for example, in that 
society which lives for "the finer things," which perceives, and 
compares, and consults, and so perfectly masters its instincts, 
the situation fairly shouts for the presence of at least one young 
man conceivably capable of bursting like Lochinvar through 
the circle of intriguing petticoats to carry off the heroine. The 
atmosphere of The Golden Bowl is ineffable — "There had been," 
says the author, "beauty day after day, and there had been for 
the spiritual lips something of the pervasive taste of it." The at- 
mosphere is ineffably rich, still, golden, and, in the long run, 
stifling; the perceptive Mr. Vcrvcr, who is in it, gives a telling 
image of its effect: "That's all I mean at any rate — that it's 'sort 
of soothing: as if we were sitting about on divans, with pigtails, 
smoking opium and seeing visions. 'Let us then be up and doing* 
— what is it Longfellow says? That seems sometimes to ring out; 
like the police breaking in — into our opium den — to give us a 

• shake." 

One may properly stress the point of his sin against the in- 
tegrity- of life because it is of the essence of the aesthetic case. 
It explains the vague but profound resentment which some 
readers who do not balk at James's difficulty feel when they 
have got "inside." Mr. Brownell, Mr. Hucffer, and Miss West 
all point towards but do not, I think, quite touch the heart of 
the matter when they say that James lacks "the historic sense." 
A part of the historic sense he indubitably has, and far more 
historical learning is implied in his work than is explicit in it; 
he loves the color and form of the past, he feels the "beauties" 
of history. But history to him, even the history of his own life, 
is a kind of magnificent picture gallery through which he strolls, 
delightedly commenting on the styles of different schools and 
periods, and pausing now and then for special expression of rap- 


Stuart P. Sherman 

ture before a masterpiece. Miss West beautifully flames with 
indignation at his "jocular" references to the Franco-Prussian 
War and at his unsympathetic treatment of the French Revolu- 
tion, till she hits upon the explanation that he was out of Eu- 
rope while the Franco-Prussian War raged, and that he was not 
born at the time of the French Revolution, so that he could no 
more speak well of it "than he could propose for his club a per- 
son whom he had never met." The explanation doesn't fit all 
the facts. He was not out of England when in his introduction 
to Rupert Brooke's letters he expressed his satisfaction that the 
English tradition "should have flowered in a specimen so beau- 
tifully producible" The appreciation of Brooke is one of the 
most beautifully passionate tributes ever written; but the pas- 
sion is purely aesthetic; the inveterate air of the connoisseur 
viewing a new picture in the gallery of masterpieces he cannot 
shake off. He was not speaking of events that took place before 
he was born when he said of the assassination of Lincoln in his 
Notes of a Son and Brother: "The collective sense of what had 
occurred was of a sadness too noble not somehow to inspire, and 
it was truly in the air that, whatever we had as a nation failed 
to produce, wc could at least gather round this perfection of 
classic woe. True enough, as we were to sec, the immediate har- 
vest of our loss was almost too ugly to be borne — for nothing 
more sharply comes back to me than the tunc to which the 
aesthetic sense, if one glanced but from that high window, re- 
coiled in dismay from the sight of Mr. Andrew Johnson perched 
on the stricken scene." 

Any good American will flame with indignation when he 
reads that passage; it so fails to present the subject; it is so hor- 
ribly inadequate; it so affronts what Lord Morlcy would call 
"the high moralities" of life. With its stricken "scene," its aes- 
thetic rapture, its aesthetic dismay, it insults the moral sense as 
a man would insult it who should ask one to note the exquisite 
slope of a woman's neck at the funeral of her husband. It sins 
against the integrity of life as, to take some distinguished ex- 
amples, Renan's Vie de Jesus and Pater's "Plato and Platanism 
sin against it. To present the Spartan boy as a nineteenth-cen- 
tury aesthete or to present the life of Jesus as essentially "deli- 


The Question of Henry James 

cious" is to miss in the quest of distinction the most vital and 
obvious of distinctions. It is a blunder into which simple, gross, 
whole-souled men like Fielding or Smollett or Dickens could 
never have fallen. It is a crudity of which only the most ex- 
quisite aesthete is capable; and he, perching exclusively in his 
high aesthetic window, absolutely cannot avoid it. It is of the 
pure aesthetic consciousness, not the intellect, that Emerson 
should have written his terse little couplet: 

Gravely it broods apart on joy 
And truth to tell, amused by pain. 


When all the discriminations already noted against the usur- 
pations and blindnesses of the aesthetic sense have been made, 
it remains to be said that the infinitely seductive, the endlessly 
stimulating virtue of Henry James is the quintessential refine- 
ment, the intriguing complexity, the white-hot ardor of his 
passion for beauty. One feels the sacred flame most keenly, per- 
haps, in novels and tales like The Figure in the Carpet, The 
Next Time, The Death of the Lion, The Lesson of the Master, 
Roderick Hudson, and The Tragic Muse, in all of which he is 
interpreting the spirit of the artist or treating the conflict be- 
tween the world and art. One feels it in the words of the young 
man in The Tragic M?tse who abandons the prospect of a bril- 
liant political career to become a portrait painter: "The clean- 
ness and quietness of it, the independent effort to do something, 
to leave something which shall give joy to man long after the 
howling has died away to the last ghost of an echo — such a 
vision solicits me in the watches of the night with an almost ir- 
resistible force." One feels it in the described emotion of the 
young diplomat in the same novel, who is infatuated with a 
fine piece of acting: "He floated in the felicity of it, in the gen- 
eral encouragement of a sense of the perfectly done" One feels 
it in the words of the novelist in The Lesson of the Master, who 
says he has missed "the great thing" — namely, "the sense which 
is the real life of the artist and the absence of which is his death, 


Stuart P. Sherman 

of having drawn from his intellectual instrument the finest 
music that nature had hidden in it, of having played it as it 
should be played." 

For a born man of letters the first effect of this passion for 
perfection is an immense solicitude for style; that is to say, for 
an exact verbal and rhythmical correspondence between his con- 
ception of beauty and his representation of it. Judgment upon 
style, then, involves two distinct points: first, the question 
whether the conception is beautiful, and, secondly, the question 
whether the representation is exact. Jn the case of Henry James 
there should not be much dispute about the exactness and com- 
pleteness of the representation; no man ever strode more studi- 
ously or on the whole more successfully to reproduce the shape 
and color and movement of his aesthetic experience. The open 
question is whether his conceptions were beautiful; and on this 
point the majority of his critics have agreed that his earlier con- 
ceptions were beautiful, but that his later conceptions were not. 
To that, in the last analysis, one must reduce the famous discus- 
sion of his two, or three, or half a score of "styles." Anyone 
who reads the works through in chronological order can explode 
to his own satisfaction the notion that James in any book or 
year or decade deliberately changed his sentence structure. What 
changed from year to year was his conception of beauty, and 
that changed by*an entirely gradual multiplication of distinc- 
tions through the enrichment of his consciousness and the in- 
tensification of his vision. To his youthful eye beauty appeared 
in clear light, clear colors, sharp outline, solid substance; accord- 
ingly the work of his earlier period abounds in figures distinct 
as an etching of the eighteenth century, grouping themselves as 
on a canvas of Gainsborough's, and conversing and interacting 
with the brilliant lucidity and directness of persons in a comedy 
of Congrevc's. To his maturcst vision beauty has less of body 
and more of mind; it is not so much in things as in the illimit- 
able effluence and indefinable aura of things; it reveals itself 
less to eye and ear and hand — though these are its avenues of 
approach — than to some mysterious inner organ which it moves 
to a divine abstraction from sense, to an ecstasy of pure con- 
templation; accordingly late works like The Sacred Fount and 


The Question of Henry James 

The Golden Bowl present rather presences than persons — dim 
Maeterlinckian presences gliding through the shadow and shim- 
mer of late Turneresque landscapes and Maeterlinckian country 
houses, and rarely saying or doing anything whatever of signifi- 
cance to the uninitiated ear and eye. The evolution of James's 
artistic interest may be summed up in this way: he begins with 
an interest in the visibly and audibly seen, said, and enacted; he 
ends by regarding all that as a nuisance — as an obstruction in 
the way of his latest and deepest interest, namely, the presenta- 
tion of the unseen, the unsaid, the unacted — the vast quantity 
of mental life in highly organized beings which makes no out- 
ward sign, the invisible drama upon which most of his predeces- 
sors had hardly thought of raising the curtain. The difficulty of 
the later works is not primarily in the sentence structure, but in 
the point of view. The sentences in the most difficult of the 
novels, that psychical detective story, The Sacred Fount, are 
for the most part as neat, as terse, as alert as the sentences in 
The Europeans. \\ 7 hen they are long and intricate, they gen- 
erally imprison and precisely render some intricate and reward- 
ing beauty of a moment of consciousness luxuriously full — for 
example, this moment of Strether's in The Ambassadors: 

How could he wish it to be lucid for others, for any one, that he, 
for the hour, saw reasons enough in the mere way the bright, clean,, 
ordered water-side life came in at the open window? — the mere way 
Mme. de Vionnet, opposite him over their intensely white table-linen, 
their omelette aux tomatcs, their bottle of straw-colored chablis, 
thanked him for everything almost with the smile of a child, while 
her gray eyes moved in and out of their talk, back to the quarter of 
the warm spring air, in which early summer had already begun to 
throb, and then back to his face and their human questions. 

Attend till this delicious moment of Strethcr's reproduces itself 
in your imagination, and you will not much complain of the 
difficult magic of the evocation. 

Beyond almost all the English novelists of his time Henry 
James has applied his passion for beauty to the total form and 
composition of his stories. He cares little for the "slice of life," 
the loose episodic novel, the baggy autobiographical novel, so 


Stuart P. Sherman 

much in vogue of late, into which the author attempts to pitch 
the whole of contemporary life and to tell annually all that he 
knows and feels up to the date of publication without other 
visible principle of selection. With extremely few exceptions his 
subjects present themselves to him as "pictures" to be kept rig- 
orously within the limits of a frame, or as "dramas" to be kept 
within the limits of a stage, or as alternations of "drama" with 
"picture." How he imposes upon himself the laws of painter 
and playwright, how he chooses his "center of composition," 
handles his "perspective," accumulates his "values," constructs 
his "stage," turns on the "lights" — all this he has told with ex- 
traordinary gusto in those prefaces which more illuminate the 
fine art of fiction than anything else — one is tempted to say, 
than everything else — on the subject. The point for us here is 
that he strives to make the chosen form and the intended effect 
govern with an "exquisite economy" every admitted detail. The 
ideal is to express everything that belongs in the "picture," 
everything that is in the relations of the persons of the drama, 
but nothing else. 


Henry James's exacting aesthetic sense determines the field 
no less than the form of his fiction. A quite definite social ideal 
conceived in the aesthetic consciousness is implicit in his rep- 
resentation of a really idle leisure class — an ideal ultimately 
traceable to his own upbringing and to his early contact with 
the Emersonian rather than the Carlylean form of Transcen- 
dentalism. He has a positive distaste for our contemporary hero 
— "the man who does things"; the summum bonum for him is 
not an action, but a state of being — an untroubled awareness of 
beauty. Hence, his manifested predilection for "highly civilized 
young Americans, born to an easy fortune and a tranquil des- 
tiny"; for artists who amateurishly sketch and loiter through 
lovely Italian springs, though conscious of "social duties" that 
await them beyond the Alps; for diplomats devoted to the the- 
ater and members of Parliament who dabble in paint; for Italian 
princesses and princes free from the cares of state; for French 
counts and countesses who have nothing to keep up but the tra- 


The Question of Henry James 

ditions of their "race"; for English lords with no occupation 
but the quest of a lady; for American millionaires who have left 
"trade" three thousand miles behind them to collect impres- 
sions, curios, and sons-in-law in Europe. Objectors may justly 
complain that he seems unable to conceive of a really fine lady 
or a really line gentleman or a really decent marriage without 
a more or less huge fortune in the background or in the fore- 
ground of the picture; and it may be added that to the sense of 
a truly "Emersonian" mind the clink and consideration of gold 
in most of his crucial instances is a harsh and profound note of 
vulgarity vibrating through his noble society. He is entirely sin- 
cere when he says, in speaking of Balzac, that the object of 
money is to enable one to forget it. Yet fine ladies, fine gentle- 
men, and fine society as he understands these matters are, to tell 
the hard truth, impossible except in the conditions created by 
affluence and leisure. In comparative poverty one may be good; 
but one cannot, in the Jamcsian sense, be beautiful! 

Society cannot in the Jamcsian sense be beautiful till the 
pressures of untoward physical circumstances, of physical needs, 
and of engagements with "active life" are removed, and men 
and women arc free to live "from within outv/ard," subjecting 
themselves only to the environment and entering only the rela- 
tionships dictated by the aesthetic sense. Let us not undervalue 
the significance of this ideal, either with reference to life or with 
reference to literature. It is inadequate; but it -has the high 
merit of being finely human. It has the precious virtue of utterly 
delivering Henry James from the riotous and unclean hands of 
the "naturalists." To it he owes the splendid distinction that 
when half the novelists of Europe, carried off their feet by the 
naturalistic drift of the age, began to go aslumming in the muck 
and mire of civilization, to explore man's simian relationships, 
to exploit la bete Jmmahie and Vhomme moyen scnsnel, to prove 
the ineluctability of flesh and fate and instinct and environment 
— he, with aristocratic contempt of them and their formulas 
and their works, withdrew further and further from them, 
drew proudly out of the drift of the age, and set his imagina- 
tion the task of presenting the fairest specimens of humanity 
in a choice, sifted society tremendously disciplined by its own 


, Stuart P. Sherman 

ideals but generally liberated from all other compelling forces. 
Precisely because he keeps mere carnality out of his picture, 
holds passion rigorously under stress, presents the interior of a 
refined consciousness — precisely for these reasons he can produce 
a more intense pleasure in the reader by the representation of a 
momentary gush of tears or a single swift embrace than most of 
our contemporaries can produce with chapter after chapter of 
storms and seductions. 

The controlling principle in Henry James's imaginary world 
is not religion nor morality nor physical necessity nor physical 
instinct. 7Tie controlling principle is a sense of style, under 
which vice, to adapt Burke's words, loses half its evil by losing 
all its grossness. In the noble society noblesse, and nothing else, 
obliges. Even in the early "international" novels we witness the 
transformation of Puritan morality, of which the sanction was 
religious, into a kind of chivalry, of which the sanctions are 
individual taste and class loyalty. Madame dc Mauves, the lovely 
American married to a naughty French husband in that charm- 
ing little masterpiece which bears her name, is not exhibited as 
preserving her "virtue" when she rejects her lover; she is ex- 
hibited as preserving her fineness. Her American lover acqui- 
esces in his dismissal not from any sudden pang of conscience, 
but from a sudden recognition that if he persists in his suit he 
will be doing precisely what the vulgar French world and one 
vulgar spectator in particular expect him to do. In the earlier 
novels such as Madame de Mauves, Daisy Miller, and The Amer- 
ican, the straightness, the innocence, the firmness of the Ameri- 
can conscience are rather played up as beauties against the Euro- 
pean background. Yet as early as 1878 he had begun, with the 
delightfully vivacious and witty The Europeans, his criticism of ! 
the intellectual dullness and emotional poverty of the New Eng- \ 
land sense of "righteousness" — a criticism wonderfully culmi- I 
nating in The Ambassadors (1903), in which the highly per- 1 
ceptive Strether, sent to France to reclaim an erring son of New 
England, is himself converted to the European point of view. 

Noblesse in the later novels inspires beauties of behavior be- 
yond the reaches of the Puritan imagination. It is astonishing to 
observe how many heroes and heroines of the later period are 


The Question of Henry James 

called upon to attest their fineness by a firm, clear-eyed men- 
dacity. The Wings of the Dove, for example, is a vast conspiracy 
of silence to keep a girl who knows she is dying from knowing 
that her friends know that she knows. To lie with a wry face is 
a blemish on one's character. tr l lie well, thank God," says Mrs. 
Lowder, "when, as sometimes will happen, there's nothing else 
so good." In the same novel poor Densher, who rather hates ly- 
ing, rises to it: "The single thing that was clear in complications 
was that, whatever happened, one was to behave as a gentle- 
man — to which was added indeed the perhaps slightly less shin- 
ing truth that complications might sometimes have their tedium 
beguiled by a study of the question of how a gentleman would 
behave." When he is tempted to throw up his adventure in 
noble mendacity he is held to it in this Way: as soon as he steps 
into the Palazzo Lcporelli in Venice where the dying lady resides 
he sees "all the elements of the business compose, as painters 
called it, differently" — he sees himself as a figure in a Veronese 
picture, and he lives up to the grand style of the picture. He 
actively fosters the "suppressions" which are "in the direct in- 
terest of every one's good manners, every one's really quite gen- 
erous ideal." 

The most elaborate and subtle of all James's tributes to the 
aesthetic ideal in the conduct of life is The Golden Bowl — a pic- 
ture .in eight hundred pages of the relations existing between 
Maggie Verver and her husband the prince, between Maggie's 
father,. Adam Verver, and his second wife, Charlotte, and be- 
tween each one of the quadrangle and all the rest. Before the 
pair of marriages took place we are made to understand that an 
undefinedly intimate relation had existed between the prince 
and Charlotte, of which Maggie and her father were unaware; 
and after the marriages we are made to understand that the un- 
definedly intimate relation was resumed. All four of the parties 
to this complex relationship are thoroughly civilized; they are 
persons fit for the highest society; that is to say, they have 
wealth, beauty, exquisite taste, and ability to tell a lie with a 
straight face. What will be the outcome? The outcome is that, 
without overt act, or plain speech, or displayed temper on any 
hand, each one by psychic tact divines "everything," and Mr. 


Stuart P. Sherman 

and Mrs. Verver quietly return to America. Why is the liaison 
dissolved with such celestial decorum? It is dissolved because the 
."principals" in it perceive the aesthetic "impossibility" of con- 
tinuing their relations in that atmosphere of silent but lucid 
"awareness"; and it is dissolved with decorum because all the 
persons concerned are infinitely superior to the vulgarity of 
rows, ruptures, and public proceedings. The "criticism of life" 
implicit in the entire novel becomes superbly explicit in Mag- 
gie's vision of the ugliness and barbarousness of the behavior of 
ordinary mortals in like circumstances. 

She might fairly, as she watched them, have missed it [hot angry 
jealousy] as a lost thing; have yearned for it, for the straight vindic- 
tive view, the rights of resentment, the rages of jealousy, the protests 
of passion, as for something she had been cheated of not least; a range 
of feelings which for many women would have meant so much, 
but which for her husband's wife, for her father's daughter, figured 
nothing nearer to experience than a wild eastern caravan, looming into 
view with crude colours in the sun, fierce pipes in the air, high spears 
against the sky, all a thrill, a natural joy to mingle with, but turning 
off short before it reached her and plunging into other defiles. 

Docs not that description of Maggie's vision throb with a fine 
passion of its own — throb with the excitement of James's imag- 
inative insight into the possible amenity of human intercourse 
in a society aesthetically disciplined and controlled? 


My thesis is simply that James's works throb with that fine 
passion from the beginning to the end — just as Pater's do. Crit- 
icism's favorite epithets for him hitherto have been "cold," 
"analytical," "scientific," "passionless," "pitiless" historian of 
the manners of a futile society. That view of him is doomed 
to disappear before the closer scrutiny which he demanded and 
which he deserves. He is not an historian of manners; he is a 
trenchant idealistic critic of life from the aesthetic point of 

He is not pitiless except in the exposure of the "ugly," which 


The Question of Henry James 

to his sense includes all forms of evil; in that task he is remorse- 
less whether he is exposing the ugliness of American journalism 
as in The Reverberator, or the ugliness of a thin, nervous, hys- 
terical intcllectualism and feminism as in The Bostonians, or 
the ugliness of murder as in The Other House, or the ugliness 
of irregular sexual relations as in What Mais'tc Knew, or the 
ugliness of corrupted childhood as in The Tarn of the Screw, 
The deep-going uglinesses in the last three cases are presented 
with a superlative intensencss of artistic passion. If the effect 
is not thrilling in the first case and heartrending in the last two, 
it is because Anglo-Saxons are quite unaccustomed to having 
their deeps of terror and pity, their moral centers, touched 
through the aesthetic nerves. Granting the fact, there is no rea- 
son why they should deny the presence of a passion of antipathy 
in a man to whose singular consciousness the objectionable in- 
vetcratcly takes the shape of the ugly. 

What, however, is more incomprehensible is the general fail- 
ure of criticism to recognize the ardor of his quite unscientific 
attachment to the beautiful. His alleged deficiency in charm, 
it is asserted, is due to the fact that he docs not sympathize with 
or love any of his characters. The alleged fact is not a fact. He 
sympathizes intensely with all his artists and novelists, with all 
his connoisseurs of life, with all his multitude of miraculously 
perceptive persons from the American homesick for England in 
A Passionate Pilgrim through the young woman aware of the 
fineness of old furniture in The Spoils of Poynton to Maggie 
and Mr. Verver in The Golden Bowl. And he dotes, devoutly 
dotes, dotes in idolatry upon the enriched consciousness, the 
general awareness, and the physical loveliness of his women. He 
cannot "abide" a plain heroine, even if she is to be a criminal. 
Of Rose, the murderess in The Other House, he says the most 
exquisite things — "She carries the years almost as you do y and 
her head better than any young woman I've ever seen. Life is 
somehow becoming to her." In almost every novel that he wrote 
he touched some woman, or other with the soft breath of pure 
aesthetic adoration — a refining and exalting emotion which is 
the note of Sherringham's relation to Miriam in The Tragic 


Stuart P. Sherman 

Beauty was the principle of everything she did. . . . He could but 
call it a felicity and an importance incalculable, and but know that 
it connected itself with universal values. To sec this force in opera- 
tion, to sit within its radius and feel it shift and revolve and change 
and never fail, was a corrective to the depression, the humiliation, 
the bewilderment of life. It transported our troubled friend from 
the vulgar hour and the ugly fact; drew him to something that had 
no warrant but its sweetness, no name nor place save as the pure, the 
remote, the antique. 

This is the "very ecstasy of love"; and for this virtue, in the 
years to come, one adept after another reading the thirty or 
forty volumes of James which anyone can read with case and 
the fifteen or twenty richer volumes which demand closer ap- 
plication — for this virtue one adept after another, till a brave 
company gathers, is certain to say, "I discriminate; but I adore 


, if 


The Figure in the Carpet 

THERE is one group among the shorter stones of James that 
has a peculiar interest for anyone seeking hints and revela- 
tions of the personal experience, the temper and ideals of their 
author. It comprises nearly a dozen talcs dealing with writers 
of fiction. It is of course a hazardous business making infer- 
ences in regard to James from any of these stories. The informa- 
tion we may suppose ourselves to derive from them is neither so 
substantial, so technical, nor so authoritative as what he offers 
us in the prefaces. But it is not the less precious on that account. 
If, with tact and discretion, wc do learn something from these 
stories about his attitude toward his art, it will be something of 
an intimacy nowhere ^zo. to be felt. It will be something, say, 
which modesty and pride forbade him to let us have straight 
from himself; but something he might, be willing for us to learn 
by sympathetic inference, laying upon us the whole responsi- 
bility of assertion. 

Most fascinating of all these talcs, and the one which con- 
stitutes the greatest temptation for the interpreter of James, is 
The Figure in the Carpet. For here he shows us a novelist of 
rare distinction flinging down to the eager critic- the challenge 
of his secret. The critic is a clever fellow, a "demon of subtlety"; 
but he has failed, like everyone else, to discover the "little point" 
the novelist most wishes to make. In fact he has to be informed 
that there is any such little point to be discovered, that there is 
a "particular thing'* the novelist has "written his books most 
for." "Isn't there for every writer," asks Hugh Vereker, in their 
momentous midnight talk, "isn't there a particular thing of 


Joseph Warren Beach 

that sort, the thing that most makes him apply himself, the 
thing without the effort to achieve which he wouldn't write at 
all, the very passion of his passion, the part of the business in 
which, for him, the flame of art burns most intensely? Well, 
it's that!" And on a demand for more particularity he adds, 
"There's an idea in my work without which I wouldn't have 
given a straw for the whole job. It's the finest fullest intention 
of the lot, and the application of it has been, I think, a triumph 
of patience, of ingenuity. ... It stretches, this little trick of 
mine, from book to book, and everything else, comparatively, 
plays over the surface of it. The order, the form, the texture of 
my books will perhaps some day constitute for the initiated a 
complete representation of it. So it's naturally the thing for the 
critic to look for.. It strikes me . . . even as the thing for the 
critic to find." To the other's query, "You call it a little trick?" 
the novelist replies, "That's only my little modesty. It's really 
an exquisite scheme." It is later that the critic hits on the figure 
of speech by which this "little trick" is best to be described. "It 
was something, I guessed, in the primal plan; something like a 
complex figure in a Persian carpet. He [Vcreker] highly ap- 
proved of this image when I used it, and he used another him- 
self. 'It's the very string,' he said, 'that my pearls arc strung 

~~ * »» 


"It's naturally the thing for the critic to look for," said Hugh 
Vcreker of his "little trick." "It strikes me even as the thing 
for the critic to find." What head is cool enough to resist the 
suggestion that James had here in mind his own well-nigh des- 
perate case? Was there not some "intention" of his own which 
had been regularly overlooked by reviewers in their hasty men- 
tion of his work? It was not that he wished to be difficult and 
esoteric. It was not so at least with Hugh Vcreker. "If my great 
affair's a secret, that's only because it's a secret in spite of itself 
— the amazing event has made it one. I not only never took the 
smallest precaution to keep it so, but never dreamed of any 
such accident. If I had I shouldn't in advance have had the heart 
to go on. As it was, I only became aware little by little, and 
meanwhile I had done my work." But now his secret had be- 
come for him the great amusement of life. " 'I live almost to see 


The Question of Henry James 

if it will ever be detected.' He looked at me for a jesting chal- 
lenge; something far within his eyes seemed to peep out. 'But 
I needn't worry — it won't!' " One cannot but wonder if Henry 
James, like Hugh Vereker, did pass away without ever having 
his secret put adequately into words. 

We need not take this tale too gravely as a revelation of the 
artistic soul of Henry James. We need not set ourselves, with 
confident assumption, to solve the hinted riddle of his work. 
But we should be missing a rare occasion if we did not take up 
this metaphor and let it guide us in our summary of his art. 
Perhaps we should say there is not one, there are many figures 
in the carpet — as many figures as there are fond, discerning 
readers. For me the figure in the carpet is that which gives life 
to the whole work. It must be implied in all that we have found 
to be true of it; it must be the inner meaning and the motive 
of all that is included in his method. This, too, is suggested by 
what Hugh Vereker says of his "secret." It is not a "kind of 
esoteric message": at least it cannot be adequately described "in 
cheap journalese." He will not limit it by saying it is "something 
in the style or something in the thought, an element of form or 
an element of feeling." "Well," says Hugh Vereker, "you've 
got a heart in your body. Is that an element of form or an ele- 
ment of feeling? What I contend that nobody has ever men- 
tioned in my work is the organ of life." 

"Esoteric message" is "cheap journalese." The same red lan- 
tern warns off from any statement of James's "philosophy of 
life." It may be James has no philosophy of life. But he has 
something which will serve the purpose as well. He has a scale 
of values, a preference in human experience, an absorbing pre- 
occupation. From first to last he is preoccupied not with men's 
lives but with the quality of their experience; not with the pat- 
tern but with the texture of life. Most novelists seem by com- 
parison all taken up with the pattern. In Fielding and Scott, in 
Balzac and Zola, in Thackeray and Tolstoy, it is the adventures 
of the characters that we are bidden to follow. The contrast is 
the more remarkable when it is the English contemporaries of 
James that are brought into comparison. In Meredith and 
George Eliot, a matter of prime importance is what the char- 


Joseph Warren Beach 

acters bring to pass in a practical way. These authors may indeed 
reconcile themselves to the littleness of accomplishment on the 
part of their heroes; but it is accomplishment of some sort 
on which heroes and authors alike are determined. Meredith and 
George Eliot had both a philosophy of life. They were both 
strongly imbued with perfectionist and utilitarian ideals. They 
staked their all on the progress and improvement of humanity. 
A better world was the cry they had taken up from the lips 
of Rousseau and Voltaire, Bentham and Mill. The fact is deeply 
hidden under romance and sentiment of the later day; but 
George Eliot and Meredith are still in the practical and mate- 
rialist tradition, of, say, Benjamin Franklin. It is another tradi- 
tion, as we have seen, to which James owes allegiance; an idealist 
tradition deriving ultimately from romantic Germany and 
reaching its finest expression in Wordsworth, Emerson, and 
Hawthorne. Writing in the time of Gladstone and Bernard 
Shaw, James seems hardly to have given a thought to the politi- 
cal destinies of men or to the practical consequences and bear- 
ings of personal conduct. It is not in the relative terms of cause 
and effect that he considers human action. He is content, like 
some visionary Platonist, to refer each item of conduct to an 
absolute standard of the good and the beautiful. This is one rea- 
son why he is so strange a figure in our world all bent on getting 
results. We have, mostly, no such absolute standards. We know 
nothing of any Ideas in the mind of God. 

In the stories of other writers, men and women are shown 
us obsessed with desires and ambitions and opposed by material 
difficulties. And our interest is absorbed in the process by which 
they overcome their difficulties and realize their desires. The 
characters of James, too, have ambitions and desires. But that 
is not the thing that strikes us most about them. What strikes 
us most about them is their capacity for renunciation — for giv- 
ing up any particular gratification in favor of some fine ideal 
of conduct with which it proves incompatible. Common men 
and women have a more desperate grip on material values. There 
are things they insist on having. It may be money, or profes- 
sional success, or social position, or some person indispensable 
to their happiness. And there is for them no immaterial substi- 


The Question of Henry James 

tute for these substantial goods. There is nothing in thought or 
feeling that can reconcile the lover to the loss of his mistress, 
nothing he will prefer to the woman he has set his heart upon. 
But the characters of James are not common men and women; 
and for the finest of them there is always something of more 
account than the substance of their experience, namely, its qual- 
ity. They may, like other mortals, long for the realization of 
some particular desire; but they long still more fervently for 
the supreme comfort of being right with themselves. We know 
what a capacity for happiness was Isabel Archer's; but we know 
that happiness was far from being the thing she most sought, 
and we know with what deliberation she chose to embrace her 
fate when she was once made aware of "what most people know 
and suffer." We arc gratified and appalled by the meekness with 
which these people accept their dole of misery and deprivation 
— this Mitchy and Nanda, this Christopher Newman and Fleda 
Vetch. It seems that we must not use words of unhappy conno- 
tation to describe such exalted fervency of renunciation. It is 
only because we ourselves require the objective realization of 
our desires that we so misrepresent them. They seem in point of 
fact to take some higher ground inaccessible to our feet. They 
seem to say: Lo, we -have in not having. We were denied the 
shadow, but we have always possessed the real substance. One 
fantastic creature even ventures to contend that, in the realm 
of art, realization — concrete achievement — is inimical to the 
true life of the soul. Gabriel Nash is actually afraid Nick Dor- 
mer will prove a successful painter and so spoil the beauty of 
his testimony to the artistic faith. He prefers to "work in life" 
himself. Nick is so practical: he wishes Gabriel "had more to 
show" for his "little system." "Oh," says Gabriel, "having some- 
thing to show's such a poor business. It's a kind of confession 
of failure." One docs not need to measure one's acts by their 
consequences. "One is one's self a fine consequence." This is 
T^the very inner citadel of intransigent idealism. On this system 
j we may interpret the story of Fleda Vetch as the triumph of 
i Fleda. Let her cover her face in sorrow as she will. Her vulgar 
I rival may have her lover, and the flames may have devoured 
I the Sp»oils. But somehow we are given to understand that, of all 


Joseph Warren Beach 

the people in her world, she remains the wealthiest. She remains 
in substantial possession of beauty and of love. 
• What counts in the world of James is not the facts them- 
selves — what one does or what happens to one, but the interpre- 
tation put upon the facts. James has a great fondness, especially 
in his tales, for subjects very slight and off the common track 
of observation. There is little in the circumstances themselves 
to attract attention, and the people are, on the surface, entirely 
wanting in romantic interest. The challenge is all the greater 
to an author who prides himself on seeing below the surface 
of human nature, who is like a naturalist delighted to bring 
home flowers of rare and neglected beauty from spots unnoted 
by vulgar eyes. Such a flower was the homely American kins- 
woman of Lady Beldonald, who was intended by that handsome 
woman to be her foil, her dull and unremarked companion, and 
who was declared by the portrait painter to be as distinguished 
and "beautiful" as a Holbein. It is himself that James describes 
in the words of the painter. "It's not my fault," he says, "if I 
am so put together as often to find more life in situations ob- 
scure and subject to interpretation than in the gross rattle of the 
foreground." This note is forever recurring both in the stories 
themselves and in the author's comment on them. We hear it in 
Miriam Rooth's naive explanation to the great French actress 
that "there were two kinds of scenes and speeches: those which 
acted themselves, of which the treatment was plain, the only 
way, so that you had just to take it; and those open to inter- 
pretation, with which you had to fight every step, rendering, 
arranging, doing the thing according to your idea." The note 
is sounded more delicately and modestly in the case of Mrs. 
Blessingbournc and her romantic and at the same time Platonic 
feeling for Colonel Voyt. That gentleman, who is in full enjoy- 
ment of the love of another woman, is inclined to regard such 
merely Platonic love as but thin material for romance. But in 
his discussion of the matter with his own mistress, he agrees that 
the pathetic lady's very consciousness "tvaSy in the last analysis, 
a kind of shy romance. Not a romance like their own, a thing 
to make the fortune of any author up to the mark . . . but 
a small scared starved subjective satisfaction that would do her 

The Question of Henry James 

no harm and nobody else any good." We may be sure it was 
not the creator of Fleda Vetch and Milly Theale who is applying 
to Mrs. Blessingbourne's experience this supercilious description. 
As he says himself in the preface, "The thing is, all beautifully, 
a matter of interpretation and of the particular conditions; 
without a view of which latter some of the most prodigious ad- 
ventures, as one has often had occasion to say, may vulgarly 
show for nothing.'* 

The same point is made still more significantly in reference 
to the "adventures" of Isabel Archer, which he seems to think 
are but mild ones by the ordinary romantic measure. "Without 
her sense of them, her sense for them, as one may say, they 
are next to nothing at all; but isn't the beauty and the difficulty 
just in showing their mystic conversion by that sense, conver- 
sion into the stuff of drama or, even more delightful word still, 
of 'story'?" He vouchsafes two "very good instances of this 
effect of conversion." One of them is: 

... in the long statement, just beyond the middle of the book, of 
my young woman's extraordinary meditative vigil on the occasion 
that was to become for her such a landmark. Reduced to its essence, 
it is but the vigil of searching criticism; but it throws the action 
further forward than tv/cnty "incidents" might have done. It was 
designed to have all the vivacity of incident and all the economy of 
picture. She sits up, by her dying fire, far into the night, under the 
spell of recognitions on which she finds the last sharpness suddenly 
wait. It is a representation simply of her motionlessly seeing, and an 
attempt withal to make the mere still lucidity of her act as "interest- 
ing" as the surprise of a caravan or the identification of a pirate. It 
represents, for that matter, one of the identifications dear to the novel- 
ist, and even indispensable to him; but it all goes on without her being 
approached by another person and without her leaving her chair. It is 
obviously the best thing in the book, but it is only a supreme illustra- 
tion of the general plan. 

If Mr. James ever did trace out for us the Figure in the Car- 
pet, it was in this passage, in which, concluding his review of 
the first book which really shows up the figure with any dis- 
tinctness, he lets us know what is "obviously" the best thing 
in the. book, and offers it. to us as "only a supreme illustration 


Joseph Warren Beach 

of the general plan." We are reminded of the terms in which 
Hugh Vereker adumbrates for his young friend the "exquisite 
scheme," the "primal plan," not merely of his latest work, but 
of the whole series of his novels. We are further reminded of 
Hugh Vereker 's attitude towards his public by Mr. James's 
apologetic and somewhat exasperated remark — it is in connec- 
tion with his other instance of "the rare chemistry" of the char- 
acter's sense for her adventures — "It is dreadful to have too 
much, for any artistic demonstration, to dot one's i's and insist 
on one's intentions, and I am not eager to do it now." 

But however reluctant, he felt obliged on this one occasion 
to insist on his intentions. "The question here was that of pro- 
ducing the maximum of intensity with the minimum of strain. 
The interest was to be raised to its pitch and yet the elements 
to be kept in their key; so that, should the whole thing duly im- 
press, I might show what an 'exciting' inward life may do for 
the person leading it even while it remains perfectly normal." 

The V or trait of a Lady was the first book in which James 
plainly showed his "little trick," which he went on showing 
more and more plainly from that time out. His little trick was 
simply not to tell the "story" at all as the story is told by the 
Scotts and the Maupassants, but to give us instead the subjective 
accompaniment of the story. His "exquisite scheme" was to 
confine himself as nearly as possible to the "inward life" of his 
characters, and yet to make it as "exciting" for his readers as 
it was for the author, as exciting — were that possible— as it was 
for the characters themselves. 

Such an interpretation of his "scheme" would conform very 
well, at any rate, to Hugh Vcrcker's comprehensive description 
of his own: "It's the finest fullest intention of the lot, and the 
application of it has been, I think, a triumph of patience, of in- 
genuity. ... It stretches, this little trick of mine, from book 
to book, and everything else, comparatively, plays over the sur- 
face of it. The order, the form, the texture of my books will 
perhaps some day constitute for the initiated a complete repre- 
sentation of it." I don't know how the scheme I have indicated 
would be represented in the order of the books of James. But it 
might serve as an explanation of their form and texture, and 


The Question of Henry James 

of all the peculiarities of his method as we have made them out. 
Naturally, a book devoted to the inward life of a group of 
people would be nothing without its "idea." But the strict limi- 
tation of the action to the consciousness of these people would 
insure against undue abstractness in the idea, would transform 
idea into "picture." The succession of incidents in an ordinary- 
story would in such a narrative be represented by the process 
of "revelation" of the picture. Suspense would have reference 
not to what might happen but to the subjective reverberation 
of what happens. In a record of inward life it is obvious how 
important must be the choice and maintenance of a point of 
view. It is almost absolutely essential that the center of interest 
should be a person of penetrating intelligence. It is plain how 
this subjective bias would affect the nature of the dialogue, 
making it less picturesque, more fine drawn and close knit, 
being the record of mental exploration carried on by several 
persons in concert. This is true of the dialogue even in those 
more dramatic situations involving tense oppositions of will, 
and gives its peculiar character to the "drama" of James. The 
exclusive interest in mental exploration explains to a large ex- 
tent the wholesale "eliminations," which in turn relate them- 
selves to the "neutral tone" of James's writing. And the almost 
complete abstraction from the world of common accident and 
circumstance, the confinement of attention to the realm of 
spiritual reactions, gives to the work of James its insubstantial, 
its romantic, even fantastic, character, which makes it the scorn 
of the "general," the despair of the conscientious, and the su- 
preme-entertainment of those who like it. 

Above all does the exclusive concern with the inward life of 
his people explain the dominance of ethical considerations and 
at the same time perhaps the peculiar character of those in- 
volved. For the characters of James the faculty of supreme im- 
portance is the intelligence, or insight, the faculty of perceiv- 
ing "values" beyond those utilities upon which everyone agrees. 
Of such immaterial values there are two general groups, both 
of great importance and of unfailing concern to the people of 
James. The first group includes social and aesthetic values, which 
I class together because of their close association in the char- 


Joseph Warren Beach 

acters' minds, and because of their being on a common level as 
contrasted with the other group of values — the spiritual. 

Minor classifications we must here ignore. We must ignore 
those contrasts in social ideals which play so large a part in the 
earlier stories of James, but which in the long run prove to be 
of secondary importance. Social ideals may appear on the sur- 
face to be relative; but at bottom they show themselves, for this 
conservative philosopher, as absolute as any Platonic Ideas. Tact 
and discernment, fairness and modesty, the preference of the 
fine to the vulgar, the instinct for the nice and the proper, are 
after all traits in which practically all his favored characters 
agree, whether they be of Albany or London, Paris or "Wool- 
lett," 'Tlickerbridge" or Rome. There is one notable instance 
in which the contrast is drawn between a sense for social and 
a sense for aesthetic values. The drama of The Tmgic Muse 
arises from the inability of Julia Dallow, socially so complete, 
to comprehend the aesthetic life of Nick Dormer; Nick Dormer 
. is himself never quite able to make up his mind whether so 
thoroughly artistic a spirit as that of Gabriel Nash is capable 
of the refinements of gentility; and Peter Shcrringham is in a 
similar perplexity as regards the character of Miriam Rooth. 
| Generally however the social and the aesthetic senses are insep- 
arable for the people of James. Mona Brigstock and her mother 
are as incapable of the social as of the aesthetic shibboleths of 
Fleda Vetch and Mrs. Gcrcth. Isabel Archer receives in one un- 
divided flood her impressions of the aesthetic and the social l^ 
qualities of Madame Merle and of Gilbert Osmond. The world \ 
of refinements typified to Hyacinth Robinson by the Princess 
Casamassima is a world in which he cannot distinguish the aes- 
thetic from the social felicities. So that, on the whole, we 
should be justified in employing the hyphenated term of social- 
aesthetic to distinguish that type of intelligence which is shared 
by practically all the important characters of James. Or we 
might serve our purpose with the simpler, and equally compre- 
hensive, term, good taste. 

There is at least one important character who is lacking in 
good taste so understood. I mean Daisy Miller, whose peculiarity 
lies in her possession of a rare spiritual beauty quite unaccom- 



The Question of Henry James 

panied by social tact and artistic discernment. But Mr. James 
has expressed doubts himself as to the reality of this charming 
poetic creation; and the one romantic exception will but make 
more notable the almost universal prevalence of good taste as a 
qualification for admittance into the gallery of Henry James. 
This is the first qualification — that is, the one first to be con- 
sidered: one must successfully stand this test before being ad- 
vanced to the higher one reserved for heroes and heroines. It is 
good taste which unites in one great, shining company the 
otherwise so various Gilbert Osmond and Isabel Archer, Mrs. 
Brookenham and Nanda, Kate Croy and Milly Thcale, Chad 
Newsome and Lambert Strcther. 

The ideal of James is clearly a combination, or rather a fusion, 
of good taste with spiritual discernment, and perhaps the most 
complete, if not the most dramatic, instance of this fusion is 
the last named, Lambert Strether. For him there seems to be no 
such distinction between aesthetic and ethical as perplexes most 
of us mortals. Madame de Vionnet has a claim upon Chad, he 
thinks, because she has worked upon him so fine a transforma- 
tion; and this character of Chad's, of her creation, is all de- 
scribed in terms of aesthetic and social connotation. No doubt 
the idea of an obligation is a moral idea at bottom; but this 
obligation is in direct opposition to the legal and religious code, 
and never were greater pains taken to translate moral concept 
into the language of simple good taste. In the mind of Lambert 
Strcther there seems to be no clear dividing line between the 
categories of beauty and goodness. 

Somewhat the same condition prevails in the psychology of 
The Awkward Age; and the tendency is always in this direc- 
tion in the stories of James. But in many cases the distinction 
is much sharper between good taste and the moral sense. And 
whenever the distinction appears, the moral sense is clearly pre- 
ferred as the higher and rarer and as something added to the 
other or built upon it. Fleda Vetch is preferred to Mrs. Gercth 
as being capable of spiritual discernment in addition to possess- 
ing the mere good taste of which the latter is such a miracle. 
We must do Mrs. Gercth the justice to acknowledge that her de- 
votion to the Spoils was an ideal and unselfish devotion, alto- 


Joseph Warren Beach 

gether different from the "crude love of possession," and that it 
gives a hint of spiritual quality. But in any other and more 
human connection, she was an unscrupulous because an unseeing 
woman. "She had no imagination about anybody's life save on 
the side she bumped against. Fleda was quite aware that she 
would have otherwise been a rare creature, but a rare creature 
was originally just what she had struck her as being. Mrs. Gcr- 
cth had really no perception of anybody's nature — had only one 
question about persons: were they clever or stupid? To be clever 
meant to know the 'marks.' Flcda knew them by direct inspira- 
tion, and a warm recognition of this had been her friend's trib- 
ute to her character. The girl now had hours of sombre hope she 
might never see anything 'good' again; that kind of experience 
was clearly so broken a reed, so fallible a source of peace." Owen 
had no more sense for the "marks" than Mona or Mrs. Brig- 
stock; but he was capable of rising to Flcda's spiritual bait. And 
so we are given the impression of him as really more clever than 
his mother, being in a class with Flcda. And Mrs. Gereth ccmes 
to recognize Flcda and Owen as "of quite another race and an- 
\other flesh." 

So it is that Milly Theale is preferred to the superb and so- 
cially incomparable Kate Croy; that Mitchy and Nanda are 
preferred to the infinitely clever and subtle mother of Nanda; 
that Isabel Archer is preferred to the charming and accom- 
plished Madame Merle and to Osmond, who had both so long 
a start of her in social and aesthetic cultivation. In each case the 
one preferred has, in addition to the common good taste, the 
wit to distinguish moral beauty. 

It is all, as we have seen, a matter of insight. The less favored 
characters, the false and the shady people, are morally color- 
blind. It is always the same story throughout the whole series 
of novels. It is so in Roderick Hudson at the beginning and in 
The Golden Bowl at the end. In The Golden Bowl, it is a ques- 
tion of whether the Prince Amerigo has enough discernment to 
perceive the superiority of his wife to his accomplished mistress. 
The "style" of Charlotte has indeed been "great" in the closing 
scenes of the drama, but great in a way far below the spiritual 
fineness of Maggie. Maggie is "great" enough to perceive the 

[io 3 ] 

The Question of Henry James 

greatness of Charlotte. "Isn't she too splendid?" she asks her 
husband. "That's our help, you see.*' . . . "See?" says Amerigo, 
triumphantly meeting his final test, "I see nothing but you** 
Roderick Hudson is an artist of genius, with endowments in- 
finitely superior to those of his friend and benefactor in every 
respect except this of spiritual discernment. It is only at the end 
of his life that he has a glimpse of what he has missed. It is in his 
last conversation with Rowland, in which the latter has finally 
told him of his own love for Mary. Roderick comes to sec how 
■ "hideous" is the appearance he has made. "Do you really care," 
Rowland is prompted to ask, "for what you may have ap- 
peared?" "Certainly. I've been damnably stupid. Isn't an artist 
supposed to be a man of fine perceptions? I haven't, as it turns 
out, had one." 
,/ The stories of James are a continuous record of such "fine 
"^perceptions" had or missed. The stuff is as airy as gossamer: not 
at all "Things done, that took the eye and had the price." Hence 
the notorious difficulty and inaccessibility of James. And hence 
the romantic exhilaration of his work for so many denizens of a 
world in which the realization of ideals is so rare and hard of 
accomplishment. May this be the secret of his great following 
among women? His greatest appeal is perhaps to those whose 
lives have yielded the minimum of realization, to those who 
have the least control over the gross materials of life. 


Henry James and Stephen Crane 

i 1923 i 

WINTER brought to Stephen Crane bad colds and a trip 
to Harold Frederic's pet fishing village. On February 5, 
he dined with Frederic and Charles Griswold, an American 
tourist, at Richmond. To this matrix of a pleasant evening 
were suddenly added a nobleman then in alliance with a lady 
never certain as to her nationality, understood to be the honored 
subject of verses in The Yellow Book and reputed chaste though 
seldom sober. The party came back to Mr. Griswold's rooms in 
London and Madame Zipango — the name is certainly interna- 
tional — was imitating Yvette Guilbert when Henry James ap- 
peared to pay his young compatriot a call. The correct and the 
incorrect swam together in a frightful collision. Crane withdrew 
the elderly novelist to a corner and talked style until the fan- 
tastic woman poured champagne in the top hat of Henry James. 
Her noble lover had gone to sleep. Frederic was amused. The 
wretched host of this group was too young and too frightened 
to do anything preventative and Crane, coldly tactful, got the 
handsome creature out of the hotel, then came back to aid in 
the restoration of the abused hat. 

Crane did not find this funny. In the next week he wrote: 
"I agree with you that Mr. James has ridiculous traits and lately 
I have seen him make a holy show of himself in a situation that 
— on my honour — would have been simple to an ordinary man. 
But it seems impossible to dislike him. He is so kind to every- 
body. ..." 

He was so kind. From the sacred fount of his self-adoration 
there yet welled on gifted folk those pools of tender corre- 


The Question of Henry James 

spondence and those courtesies a trifle tedious, one hears, but 
rendered with such grace. Ada Rehan might vexedly call him 
"my dear snob" across a luncheon table but she would repent 
for weeks that bit of unpremeditated, natural frankness. An- 
other actress, in a forgetful breath, assured him that she found 
his friend Paul Bourget's novels vulgar and then shook as the 
deep voice stammered, "Vul — " to begin some sentence of 
pained expostulation that ended in mere syllables of affront. He 
was no longer a man. Henry James was a colored and com- 
plicated ritual that demanded of spectators a reverence unfail- 
ingly accorded. People who swooned under the burden of his 
final method sat and sat in pleasure while that astonishing ego- 
tism bared in slow phrases its detached and charming apprecia- 
tion of its own singular skill. He had written plays incoherent 
and banal in exquisite English for the simple and admitccd pur- 
pose of making money "as much and as soon as possible" and 
his votaries shuddered when the plebeians hooted Guy Domville 
from the stage. He committed in reviews consummate silliness 
such as his famous statement of tears shed over the butchered 
children of Rudyard Kipling's Drums of the Fore and Aft with 
its added comment on the dreadful dirtiness of the dead drum- 
mers. The sob balanced the snobbery and nobody jeered, save 
one remote and logical American. Critics mired themselves in 
verbal anguish over his successive novels. This plain and limited 
old bachelor commanded the world to respect him and the 
world obeyed. He was so kind. 

Life waned for this man in his absurd and wonderful position, 
the patron of a cult. His books were so little read in America 
that he could be mentioned as "the late Henry James" in 1898 
at a public banquet without exciting laughter. Americans in- 
vading England found, to their horror or secret relief, that no- 
body seemed to read his books in the territory assigned to his 
renown. But to no other writer in the Anglo-American field 
were attached such bristling adherents! He was holy and impec- 
cable to the gaze of innumerable talented folk. Mrs. Humphry 
Ward fell speechless and scarlet when it was said, in her pres- 
ence, that Mr. James had derived his tale Paste from De Maupas- 
sant, and another votary still living ordered from his house a 


Thomas Beer 

heretic who chose to argue that the Master's preoccupation with 
refinements was a vulgar habit. He was prim and circumspect, 
as befitted the child grown old who was ordered at the age of 
seven to compose a note of apology for appearing barefoot on 
the porch of a seaside villa before callers, and he was the pet 
of cynical voluptuaries. He was a provincial sentimentalist 
touted by worshipers as the last flower of European culture 
while he recoiled in amazement from the profound civilization 
of Havelock Ellis who would and, "so successfully delicate in 
his attack on the matter of these abominations that one reads, 
I may say, almost painlessly," did write of sexual deflections and 
gross social phenomena without any sign of shock. This fading 
life of Henry James had passed in a scries of recoils. Civiliza- 
tion, in his sight, seems to have been not the overthrow of empty 
inhibitions but an exaltation of limits. He had fled — and who 
blames him? — from a society that became, in his dreams, a 
tcntacled beast ready always to overpower his individual trend, 
but he remained a Bostonian by every implication of his rare 
and scrupulous art. Even when in The Turn of the Screiu 
he attempted to tell the story of "abominations" he must 
produce it with ghosts for sinners and the corrupted bodies 
must be those of children impossible and lovely as the babes of 
his predecessor Hawthorne. This master of groomed circum- 
stance had found out a sunny garden where poisons blew as 
perfumes too heavy for a refined sense and crimes were shadows, 
not clouds, that swept across his shaved and watered turf. 

[io 7 ] 

« ^ 

On Henry James 



HENRY JAMES has been dead for some time. The current 
of English literature was not appreciably altered by his 
work during his lifetime; and James will probably continue to 
be regarded as the extraordinarily clever but negligible curi- 
osity. The current hardly matters; it hardly matters that very 
few people will read James. The "influence" of James hardly 
matters: to be influenced by a writer is to have a chance in- 
spiration from him; or to take what one wants; or to see things 
one has overlooked; there will always be a few intelligent people 
to understand James, and to be understood by a few intelligent 
people is all the influence a man requires. What matters least of 
all is his place in such a Lord Mayor's show as Mr. Chesterton's 
procession of Victorian literature. The point to be made is that 
James has an importance which has nothing to do with what 
came before him or what may happen after him; an importance 
which has been overlooked on both sides of the Atlantic. 

I do not suppose that anyone who is not an American can 
properly appreciate James. James's best American figures in the 
( novels, in spite of their trim, definite outlines, the economy of 
[strokes, have a fullness of existence and an external ramification 
of relationship which a European reader might not easily sus- 
pect. The Bellegardc family, for instance, are merely good out- 
line sketches by an intelligent foreigner; when more is expected 
. of them, in the latter part of the story, they jerk themselves into 
only melodramatic violence. In all appearance Tom Tristram is 


T. S. Eliot 

an even slighter sketch. Europeans can recognize him; they have 
seen, him, known him, have even penetrated the Occidental 
Club; but no European has the Tom Tristram element in his 
composition, has anything of Tristram from his first visit to 
the Louvre to his final remark that Paris is the only place where 
a white man can live. It is the final perfection, the consumma- 
tion of an American to become, not an Englishman, but a Euro- 
pean — something which no born European, no person of any 
European nationality, can become. Tom is one of the failures, 
one of nature's misfortunes, in this process. Even General Pack- 
ard, C. P. Hatch, and Miss Kitty Upjohn have a reality which 
Claire de Cintre misses. Noemie, of course, is perfect, but No- 
emie is a result of the intelligent eye; her existence is a triumph 
of the intelligence, and it does not extend beyond the frame 
of the picture. 

For the English reader, much of James's criticism of America 
must merely be something taken for granted. English readers 
can appreciate it for what it has in common with criticism 
everywhere, with Flaubert in France and Turgenev in Russia. 
Still, it should have for the English an importance beyond the 
work of these writers. There is no English equivalent for James, 
and at least he writes in this language. As a critic, no novelist 
in^our__language can approach James; there is not even any 
large part of the_ reading public which knows what the word 
"critic" means. (The usual definition of a critic is a writer 
who cannot "create" — perhaps a reviewer of books.) James 
was emphatically not a successful literary critic. His criticism 
of books and writers is feeble. In writing of a novelist, he occa- 
, sionally produce:; a valuable sentence out of his own experience 
rather than in judgment of the subject. The rest is charming 
talk, or gentle commendation. Even in handling men whom he 
could, one supposes, have carved joint from joint — Emerson, or 
Norton — his touch is uncertain; there is a desire to be generous, 
a political motive, an admission (in dealing with American writ- 
ers) that under the circumstances this was the best possible, or 
that it has fine qualities. His father was here keener than he. 
Henry was not a literary critic. 

He was a critic who preyed not upon ideas, but upon living") 


The Question of Henry James 

beings. It is criticism which is in a very high sense creative. The 
characters, the best of them, are each a distinct success of crea- 
tion: Daisy Miller's small brother is one of these. Done in a 
clean, flat drawing, each is extracted out of a reality of its own, 
substantial enough;. everything given is true for that individual;' 
fbut what is given is chosen with great art for its place in aj 
(general scheme.jThe general scheme is not one character, nor a) 
[group of characters in a plot or merely in a crowd. The focus is 
|a situation, a relation, an atmosphere, to which the characters 
pay tribute, but being allowed to give only what the writer 
wants. The real hero, in any of James's stories, is a social entity 1 
of which men and women arc constituents. It is, in The Euro- 
pea?ts, that particular conjunction of people at the Wentworth 
house, a situation in which several memorable scenes are merely 
timeless parts, only occurring necessarily in succession. In this 
aspect, you can say that James is dramatic; as what Pinero and 
Mr. Jones used to do for a large public, James does for the intel- 
ligent. It is in the chemistry of these subtle substances, these 
curious precipitates and explosive gases which are suddenly 
formed by the contact of mind with mind, that James is un- 
cqualcd. Compared with James's, other novelists' characters . 
seem to be only accidentally in the same book. Naturally, there 
is something terrible, as disconcerting as a quicksand, in this 
discovery, though it only becomes absolutely dominant in such 
stories as The Turn of the Screw. It is partly foretold in Haw- . 
thorne, but James carried it much further. And it makes the 
reader, as well as the personae, uneasily the victim of a merciless 

i James's critical genius comes out most tellingly in his mas- 
tery over, his baffling escape from, Ideas; a mastery and an es- 
cape which arc perhaps the last test of a superior intelligence. 
He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it. Englishmen, 
with their uncritical admiration (in the present age) for France, 
like to refer to France as the Flome of Ideas; a phrase which, 
if we could twist it into truth, or at least a compliment, ought 
to mean that in France ideas arc very severely looked after; not 
allowed to stray, but preserved for the inspection of civic pride 
in a Jardin des Plantes, and frugally dispatched on occasions of 


T. S. Eliot 

public necessity. England, on the other hand, if it is not the 
Home of Ideas, has at least become infested with them in about 
the space of time within which Australia has been overrun by- 
rabbits. In England ideas run wild and pasture on the emotions; 
instead of thinking with our feelings (a very different thing) 
we corrupt our feelings with ideas; we produce the political, 
the emotional idea, evading sensation and thought. George Mer- 
edith (the disciple of Carlyle) was fertile in ideas; his epigrams 
are a facile substitute for observation and inference. Mr. Ches- 
terton's brain swarms with ideas; I see no evidence that it 
thinks. James in his novels is like the best French critics in main- 
taining a poii!jcj2i3lie^ r ^-~Y^^ the parasite 
idea. Pie is the most intelligent man of his generation. 

The fact of being everywhere a foreigner was probably an 
assistance to his native wit. Since Byron and Landor, no Eng- 
lishman appears to have profited much from living abroad. We 
have had Birmingham seen from Chelsea, but not Chelsea seen 
(really seen) from Baden or Rome. There are advantages, in- 
deed, in coming from a large flat country which no one wants 
to visit: advantages which both Turgencv and James enjoyed. 
These advantages have not won them recognition. Europeans 
have preferred to take their notion of the Russian from Dos- 
toevski and their notion of the American from, let us say, 
Frank Norn's if not O. Henry.. Thus, they fail to note that 
there are many kinds of their fellow countrymen, and that most 
of these kinds, similarly to the kinds of their fellow country- 
men, are stupid; likewise with Americans. Americans also have 
encouraged this fiction of a general type, a formula or idea, 
usually the predaccous square jawed or thin lipped. They like 
to be told that they arc a race of commercial buccaneers. It 
gives them something easily escaped from, moreover, when they 
wish to reject America. Thus, the novels of Frank Norris have 
succeeded in both countries; though it is curious that the most 
valuable part of The Pit is its satire (quite unconscious, I be- 
lieve; Norris was simply representing faithfully the life he 
knew) of Chicago society after business hours. All this show 
of commercialism which Americans like to present to the for- 
eign eye James quietly waves aside; and in pouncing upon his 


The Question of Henry James 

fellow countryman after the stock exchange has closed, in 
tracking down his vices and absurdities across the Atlantic and 
exposing them in their highest flights of dignity or culture, 
James may be guilty of what will seem to most Americans scan- 
dalously improper behavior. It is too much to expect them to be 
grateful. And the British public, had it been more aware, would 
hardly have been more comfortable confronted with a smile 
which was so far apart from breaking into the British laugh. 
Henry James's death, if it had been more taken note of, should 
have given considerable relief "on both sides of the Atlantic," 
and cemented the Anglo-American entente. 


My object is not to discuss critically even one phase or period 
of James, but merely to provide a note, Beitrage, toward any 
attempt to determine his antecedents, affinities, and "place." 
Presumed that James's relation to Balzac, to Turgcnev, to any- 
one else on the continent is known and measured — I refer to 
Mr. Hueffcr's book and to Mr. Pound's article — and presumed 
that his relation to the Victorian novel is negligible, it is not 
concluded that James was simply a clever young man who came 
to Europe and improved himself, but that the soil of his origin 
contributed a flavor discriminablc after transplantation in his 
latest fruit. We may even draw the instructive conclusion that 
this flavor was precisely improved and given its chance, not 
worked off,- by transplantation. If there is this strong native 
taste, there will probably be some relation to Hawthorne; and if 
there is any relation to Hawthorne, it will probably help us to 
analyze the flavor of which I speak. 

When we say that James is "American," we must mean that 
this "flavor" of his, and also more exactly definable qualities, are 
more or less diffused throughout the vast continent rather than 
anywhere else; but we cannot mean that this flavor and these 
qualities have found literary expression throughout the nation, or 
that they permeate the work of Mr. Frank Norris or Mr. Booth 
Tarkington. The point is that James is positively a continuator 
of the New England genius; that there is a New England genius, 

T. S. Eliot 

which has discovered itself only in a very small number of peo- 
ple in the middle of the nineteenth century — and which is not 
significantly present in the writings of Miss Sara Orne Jewett, 
Miss Eliza White, or the Bard of Applcdorc, whose name I for- 
get. I mean whatever we associate with certain purlieus of Bos- 
ton, with Concord, Salem, and Cambridge, Massachusetts: no- 
tably Emerson, Thorcau, Hawthorne, and Lowell. None of these 
men, with the exception of Hawthorne, is individually very im- 
portant; they all can, and perhaps ought to be made to look 
very foolish; but there is a "something" there, a dignity, above 
the taint of commonness about some English contemporary, as, 
for instance, the more intelligent, better-educated, more alert 
Matthew Arnold. Omitting such men as Bryant and Whitt : °r 
as absolutely plebeian, we can still perceive this halo of dignity 
around the men I have named, and also Longfellow, Margaret 
Fuller and her crew, Bancroft and Motley, the faces of (later) 
Norton and Child pleasantly shaded by the Harvard elms. One 
distinguishing mark of this distinguished world was very cer- 
tainly leisure; and importantly not in all cases a leisure given 
by money, but insisted upon. There seems no easy reason why 
Emerson or Thorcau or Hawthorne should have been men of 
leisure; it seems odd that the New England conscience should 
have allowed them leisure; yet they would have it, sooner or 
later. That is really one of the finest things about them, and sets 
a bold frontier between them and a world which will at any 
price avoid leisure, a world in which Theodore Roosevelt is a 
patron of the arts. An interesting document of this latter world 
is the Letters of a nimbly dull poet of a younger generation, of 
Henry James's generation, Richard Watson Gilder, Civil Serv- 
ice Reform, Tenement House Commission, Municipal Politics. 

Of course leisure in a metropolis, with a civilized society (the 
society of Boston was and is quite uncivilized but refined beyond 
the point of civilization), with exchange of ideas and critical 
standards, would have been better; but these men could not 
provide the metropolis, and were right in taking the leisure 
under possible conditions. 

Precisely this leisure, this dignity, this literary aristocracy, 
this unique character of a society in which the men of letters 


The Question of Henry James 

were also of the best people, clings to Henry James. It is some 
consciousness of this kinship which makes him so tender and 
gentle in his appreciations of Emerson, Norton, and the beloved 
Ambassador. With Hawthorne, as much the most important of 
these people in any question of literary art, his relation is more 
personal; but no more in the case of Hawthorne than with any 
of the other figures of the background is there any considera- 
tion of influence. James owes little, very little, to anyone; there 
arc certain writers whom he consciously studied, of whom Haw- 
thorne was not one; but in any case his relation to Hawthorne 
is on another plane from his relation to Balzac, for example. 
The influence of Balzac, not on the whole a good influence, is 
perfectly evident in some of the earlier novels; the influence of 
Turgenev is vaguer, but more useful. That James was, at a cer- 
tain period, more moved by Balzac, that he followed him with 
more concentrated admiration, is clear from the tone of his 
criticism of that writer compared with the tone of his criticism 
of either Turgenev or Hawthorne. In French Poets and Novel- 
ists, though an early work, James's attitude toward Balzac is 
exactly that of having been very much attracted from his orbit, 
perhaps very wholesomely stimulated at an age when almost 
any foreign stimulus may be good, and having afterwards re- 
acted from Balzac, though not to the point of injustice. He 
handles Balzac shrewdly and fairly. From the essay on Turgenev 
there is on the other hand very little to be got but a touching 
sense of appreciation; from the essay on Flaubert even less. 
The charming study of Hawthorne is quite different from any 
of these. The first conspicuous quality in it is tenderness, the 
tenderness of a man who had escaped too early from an environ- 
ment to be warped or thwarted by it, who had escaped so effec- 
tually that he could afford the gift of affection. At the same 
time he places his finger, now and then, very gently, on some 
of Hawthorne's more serious defects as well as his limitations. 
"The best things come, as a general thing, from the talents 
that are members of a group; every man works better when he 
has companions working in the same line, and yielding the 
stimulus of suggestion, comparison, emulation." Though when 
he says that "there was manifestly a strain of generous indolence 

T. S. Eliot 

'in his [Hawthorne's] composition" he is understating the fault 
of laziness for which Hawthorne can chiefly be blamed. But 
gentleness is needed in criticizing Hawthorne, a necessary thing 
to remember about whom is precisely the difficult fact that the 
soil which produced him with his essential flavor is the soil 
which produced, just as inevitably, the environment which 
stunted him. 

In one thing alone Hawthorne is more solid than James: he] 
had a very acute historical sense. His erudition in the small field 
of American colonial history was extensive, and he made most 
fortunate use of it. Both men had that sense of_the past which/ 
is peculiarly American, but in Hawthorne this sense exercised 
itself in a grip_on the past itself; in James it is a sense of the 
sense. This, however, need not be dwelt upon here. The really 
vital thing, in finding any personal kinship between Hawthorne 
and James, is what James touches lightly when he says that "the 
fine thing in Hawthorne is that he cared for the deeper psy- 
chology, and that, in his way, he tried to become familiar with 
it." There arc otheF~points of resemblance, not directly included 
under this, but this one is of the first importance. It is, in fact, 
almost enough to ally these two novelists, in comparison with 
whom almost all others may be accused of either superficiality 
or aridity. I am not saying that this "deeper psychology" is 
essential, or that it can always, be had without loss of other 
qualities, or that a novel need be any the less a work of art 
without it. It is a definition; and it separates the two novelists 
at once from the English contemporaries of cither. Neither 
Dickens nor Thackeray, certainly, had the smallest notion of 
the "deeper psychology"; George Eliot had a kind of heavy 
intellect for it (Tito) but all her genuine feeling went into the 
visual realism of Amos Barton. On the continent it is known; 
but the method of Stendhal or of Flaubert is quite other. A situ- 
ation is for Stendhal something deliberately constructed, often 
an illustration. There is a bleakness about it k vitalized by force 
rather than feeling, and its presentation is definitely visual. 
Hawthorne and James have a kind of sense, a receptive medium, 
which is not of sight. Not that they fail to make you see, so 
far as necessary, but sight is not the essential sense. They per- 


The Question of Henry James 

ceive by antennae; and the "deeper psychology" is here. The 
deeper psychology indeed led Hawthorne to some of his absurd- 
est and most characteristic excesses; it was forever tailing off 
into the fanciful, even the allegorical, which is a lazy substitute 
for profundity. The fancifulness is the "strain of generous in- 
dolence," the attempt to get the artistic effect by meretricious 
means. On this side a critic might seize hold of The Turn of 
the Screw, a talc about which I have many doubts; but the 
actual working out of this is different from Hawthorne's, and 
we are not interested in approximation of the two men on the 
] side of their weakness. The point is Hawthorne was acutely sen.- 

! skive to the situation; that he did grasp character through the 
relation of two or more persons to each other; and this is what 
no one else, except James, has done. Furthermore, he does estab- 
lish, as James establishes, a solid atmosphere, and hedoes, in his 
quaint way, get New England, as James gets a larger part of 
America, and as none of their respective contemporaries get 
anything above a village or two, or a jungle. Compare, with 
anything that any English contemporary could do, the situation 
which Hawthorne sets up in the relation of Dimmesdale and 
Chillingworth. Judge Pynchcon and Clifford, Hepzibah and 
Phoebe, are similarly achieved by their relation to each other; 
Clifford, for one, being simply the intersection of a relation to 
three other characters. The only dimension in which Hawthorne 
could expa nd w as the past, his present being so narrowly barren. 
It is a great pity, with his remarkable gift of observation, that 
the present did not offer him more to observe. But he is the one 
English-writing predecessor of James whose_ characters 
aware _oi Leach other, the one whose novels were in any deep 
sense a criticism of even a slight civilization; and here is some- 
thing more definite and closer than any derivation we can trace 
from Richardson or Marivaux. 

The fact that the sympathy with Hawthorne is most felt in 
the last of James's novels, The Sense of the Past, makes me the 
more certain of its genuineness. In the meantime, James has been 
through a much more elaborate development than poor Haw- 
thorne ever knew. Hawthorne, with his very limited culture, 
was not exposed to any bewildering variety of influences. James, 

)ne J 
are / 

T. S. Eliot 

in his astonishing career of self-improvement, touches Haw- 
thorne most evidently at the beginning and end of his course; 
at the beginning, simply as a young New Englander of letters; 
at the end, with almost a gesture of approach. Roderick Hudson 
is the novel of a clever and expanding young New Englander; 
immature, but just coming out to a self-consciousness where 
Hawthorne never arrived at all. Compared with Daisy Miller 
or The Europeans or The American its critical spirit is very 
crude. But The Marble Taun (Transformation) , the only Euro- 
pean novel of Hawthorne, is of Cimmerian opacity; the mind 
of its author was closed to new impressions though with all its 
Walter Scott-M}'5/mVs of Udolpho upholstery the old man does 
establish a kind of solid moral atmosphere which the young 
James does not get. James in Roderick Hudson does very little 
better with Rome than Hawthorne, and as he confesses in the 
later preface, rather fails with Northampton. 1 

He docs in the later edition tone down the absurdities of Rod- 
erick's sculpture a little, the pathetic Thirst and the gigantic 
Adam; Mr. Striker remains a failure, the judgment of a young 
man consciously humorizing, too suggestive of Martin Chuz- 
zlewit. The generic resemblance to Hawthorne is in the occa- 
sional heavy facetiousness of the style, the tedious whimsicality 
how different from the exactitude of The American Scene, the 
verbalism. He too much identifies himself with Rowland, does 
not see through the solemnity he has created in that character, 
commits the cardinal sin of failing to "detect" one of his own 
characters. The failure to create a situation is evident: with 
Christina and Mary, each nicely adjusted, but never quite set in 
relation to each other. The interest of the book for our present 
purpose is what he does not do in the Hawthorne way, in the 
instinctive attempt to get at something larger, which will bring 
him to the same success with much besides. 
{The interest in the "deeper psychology," the observation, and 

1 Was Hawthorne at all in his mind here? In criticizing The House of the Seven 
Gables he says "it renders, to an initiated reader, the impression of a summer after- 
noon in an elm-shaded New England town," and in the preface to Roderick Hudson 
he says "what the early chapters of the book most 'render' to me today is not the 
umbrageous air of their New England town." 


The Question of Henry James 

the s ense for s ituation, developed from book to book, culminate 
in The Sense of the Vast (by no means saying that this is his 
best), uniting with other qualities both personal and racial. 
I James's greatness is apparent both in his capacity for dcvelop- 
\ment as an artist and his capacity for keeping his mind alive 
to the changes in the world during twenty-five years. It is re- 
' markable (for the mastery of a span of American history) that 
the man who did the Wcntworth family in the eighties could 
do the Bradhams in the hundreds. In The Sense of the Past the 
Midmores belong to the same generation as the Bradhams; Ralph 
belongs to the same race as the Wentworths, indeed as the 
Pynchcons. Compare the book with The House of the Seven 
Gables (Hawthorne's best novel after all); the situation, the 
"shrinkage and extinction of a family," is rather more complex, 
on the surface, than James's with (so far as the book was done) 
fewer character relations. But James's real situation here, to 
which Ralph's mounting the step is the key, as Hcpzibah's open- 
ing of her shop, is a situation of different states of mind. James's 
si_tuatiqn_is the shrinkage and extinction of an idea. The Pyn- 
cheon tragedy is simple; the "curse" upon the family a matter 
of the simplest fairy mechanics. James has taken Hawthorne's 
ghost sense and given it substance. At the same time making the 
tragedy much more ethereal:, the tragedy of that "Sense," the 
hypertrophy, in Ralph, of a partial civilization; the vulgar vi- 
tality of the Midmores in their financial decay contrasted with 
the decay of Ralph in his financial prosperity, when they pre- 
cisely should have been the civilization he had come to seek. All 
this watched over by the absent but conscious Aurora. I do not 
want to insist upon the Hawthornencss of the confrontation of 
the portrait, the importance of the opening of a door. We need 
surely not insist that this book is the most important, most 
substantial sort of thing that James did; perhaps there is more 
solid wear even in that other unfinished Ivory Tower. But I 
consider that it was an excursion which we could well permit 
him, after a lifetime in which he had taken talents similar to 
Hawthorne's and made them yield far greater returns than poor 
Hawthorne could harvest from his granite soil; a permissible 

T. S. Eliot 

exercise, in which we may by a legitimately cognate fancy seem 
to detect Hawthorne coming to a mcdiumistic existence again, 
to remind a younger and incredulous generation of what he 
really was, had he had the opportunity, and to attest his satisfac- 
tion that that opportunity had been given to James. 

[xi 9 ] 

.< * 


Two Phases of Henry James 

C *9*5 ] 

A HISTORIAN of manners, a critic of manners, a mind at 
home with itself, alert, witty, instructed, in its own famil- 
iar domain. Yes, and in the foreground of life, the ground of 
the typical, the general. Turgenev said of Flaubert's Monsieur 
Homnis that the great strength of such a portrait consisted in 
its being at once an individual, of the most concrete sort, and a 
type. James 1 creates these types again and again: they are not 
universal but they are national — there are scarcely half a dozen 
figures in American fiction to be placed beside them. Christo- 
pher Newman remains for all time the wistful American busi- 
nessman who spends his life hankering after the fine things he 
has missed. Daisy Miller's character, predicament, life, and death 
are the story of a whole phase of the social history of America. 
Dr. Sloper, that perfect embodiment of the respectability of old 
New York; Miss Birdseye, the symbol of the aftermath of the 
heroic age of New England; Mrs. Burragc, the eternal New 
York hostess; Gilbert Osmond, the Italianate American — these 
are all veritable creations: indeed one has only to recall Winter- 
bourne, in Daisy Miller, the American who has lived abroad so 
long that he has ceased to understand the behavior of his fellow 
countrywoman, to perceive with what an unfailing resourceful- 
ness James infuses into the least of his characters the element 
of the typical. It goes without saying that all this, together 

1 In the novels written prior to about 1890. It is Brooks's contention, in The Pil- 
grimage of Henry James, from which these passages are taken, that the later work 
deteriorated because James was at home in neither the United States nor Europe. Ed. 

Van Wyck Brooks 

with the tenderness and the benevolent humor that bathe the 
primitive Jamesian scene, indicates the sort of understanding 
that is born only of race. These novels are the work of a man 
who was so sure of his world that he could play with it as all 
the great novelists have played with their worlds. The signifi- 
cant theme came to him with a natural inevitability, for he 
shared some of the deepest and most characteristic desires of his 
compatriots. And this relation, as long as he maintained it, en- 
dowed him with the notes of the great tellers of tales, the note 
of the satirist, the note of the idyllist, the note of the tragedian. 

And "how does he feci about life? What, in the last analysis, 
is his philosophy? When vigorous writers have reached matu- 
rity, "'James remarks in Vart'wl Portraits, "we are at liberty to 
look in their works for some expression of a total view of the 
world they have been so actively observing." Nothing could be 
clearer than his own view, the point, as it might be called, of 
these gathered novels and tales. Mr. Hucffer says that James's 
chief mission was to civilize America; and if by civilizing one 
means the development of individuality, the development of 
consciousness, one can hardly find a happier phrase. He is the 
friend of all those who are endeavoring to clarify their own 
minds, to know their own reasons, to discover their real na- 
tures, to make the most of their faculties, to escape from the lot 
of mere passive victims of fate. Plis tragedies are all the trage- 
dies of not knowing; and those against whom he directs his 
shafts are the representatives and advocates of mass opinion and 
of movements that mechanize the individual. He was the first 
novelist in the distinctively American line of our day: the first 
to challenge the herd instinct, to reveal the inadequacy of our 
social life, to present the plight of the highly personalized hu- 
man being in the primitive community. And James succeeds, 
where so many later novelists have failed, succeeds in presenting 
the struggle for the rights of personality — the central theme of 
all modern American fiction — because he is able to conceive per- 
sonalities of transcendent value. 

Yes, his own race, even his own soil — the soil to which he had 
remained for so long uneasily attached, the soil in which, in re- 
sponse to his own desire, he was brought back to be buried at 


The Question of Henry James 

last— was for James, in spite of all, the Sacred Fount. It was the 
spring of his own unconscious being; and the world to which 
it gave birth in his mind was a world that he saw with a level 
eye, as it was, as it should be, that he loved, hated, possessed, 
caressed, and judged. Judged it humanely, in the light of essen- 
tial standards, of the "scale of mankind," in Dostoevski's phrase, 
and by so doing created values for it. . . . As long as he re- 
tained a vital connection with it. But later? . . . "The world," 
says Mr. Lubbock, referring to his life in England, "is not used 
to such deference from a rare critical talent, and it certainly has 
much less respect for its own standards than Henry James had, 
or seemed to have. His respect was of course very freely mingled 
with irony, and yet it would be rash to say that his irony pre- 
ponderated. He probably felt that this, in his condition, was a 
luxury which he could only afford within limits." That is dis- 
creetly put, but what it was to mean we can divine from one of 
his own early letters from London: "You will have read this 
second part [of An International Episode] by this time," he 
writes to his mother,. "and I hope that you won't, like many of 
my friends here (as I partly know and partly suspect) take it 
ill of me as against my 'British entertainers. ' It seems to me my- 
self that I have been very delicate; but I shall keep off dangerous 
ground in future. It is an entirely new sensation for them (the 
people here) to be (at all delicately) ironized or satirized, from 
the American point of view, and they don't at all relish it." 
That is also discreetly put; nevertheless, it marks the beginning 
of the gradual metamorphosis of James's mind. He had seen life, 
in his own way, as all the great novelists have seen it, sub specie 
aetcrnitatis; he was to see it henceforth, increasingly, sub specie 
mundi — for had he not subscribed, as only a probationer can 
subscribe, to the codes and scruples, the conventions and preju- 
dices, the standards (held so lightly by everyone else) of the 
world he longed to possess? In adapting himself to this world 
he was to lose his instinctive judgment of men and things; and 
this explains his "virtuosity of vision," as Mr. Browncll de- 
scribes it, the gradual decomposition, more and more marked 
the more his talent grew, of his sense of human values. 


Van Wyck Brooks 

He had entered thus early 2 on that period of life when, as 
Taine says, feeling vanishes before science and the mind espe- 
cially delights in overcoming difficulties. "I find our art, all the 
while," he was to write betimes to Howells, "more difficult of 
practice, and want, with that, to do it in a more and more dif- 
ficult way; it being really, at bottom, only difficulty that in- 
terests me." Only difficulty — and not the life he desired to rep- 
resent? Only the way to do a thing that would make it undergo 
most doing? The day had not yet come, perhaps, when he was 
to forget the names of his characters, when he was to refer in 
his scenarios to "my first young man" and "my second young 
man," to "the Girl" and "Aurora What's-hcr-name," when he 
was to speak of the need of individuals simply of a particular 
size and weight; nevertheless, it is significant that the first novel 
in his later manner, The Spoils of Poyfifott, should have been, 
as he said, conceived as a story of "things." His people were to 
grow dimmer and dimmer, like the flame of a lamp in which 
the oil is exhausted; but he had found another object for his 
interest. He had found — The Awkward Age had proved it to 
him — that a novel might be "fundamentally organized." 

That was the figure in the carpet, that was the joy of his soul; 
that was the very string his pearls were strung on. "By my 
little point I mean — what shall I call it?" says Hugh Vereker. 
"The particular thing I've written my books most for. Isn't 
there for every writer a particular thing of that sort, the thing 
that most makes him apply himself, the thing without the effort 
to achieve which he wouldn't write at all, the very passion of 
his passion, the part of the business in which, for him, the flame 
of art burns most intensely? Well, it's that!" It was the point 
Mr. Wells observed when he said that "James begins by taking 
it for granted that a novel is a work of art that must be judged 
by its oneness, judged first by its oneness"; and we have only 
to turn to our author's prefaces to perceive with what fervor 
he developed it. "A form all dramatic and scenic" was what he 

2 In his middle fifties. Ed. 


The Question of Henry James 

contemplated for The Awkward Age, "of presented episodes, 
architecturally combined and each making a piece of the build- 
ing/' and he began by drawing a diagram of "a circle consist- 
ing of a number of small rounds disposed at equal intervals 
about a central object" — the central object being his "situa- 
tion." By such means he obtained his "rope, the rope of the di- 
rection and march of the subject, the action, pulled, like a taut 
cable between a steamer and a tug, from beginning to end." 
And he achieved his unity of effect by still another ingenious 
expedient. He defines this as. his "preference for dealing with 
my subject-matter, for 'seeing' my story, through the oppor- 
tunity and the sensibility of some more or less detached, some 
not strictly involved, though thoroughly initiated and intelli- 
gent, witness or reporter." In other words, the characters are 
presented to the reader as they are seen by one of them, the 
mind of the latter being alone presented directly. 

Such was the general intention, the buried treasure, in the 
scheme of his books, upon which the creator of Hugh Vereker 
looked back with so much pride. He had reason to do so, for 
what craft, what cunning, what prodigies of deliberation, what 
arts of the chase had. contributed to produce it! And this was 
only one of those innumerable "secrets of the kitchen" upon 
which he dwells in his later letters and essays. The "saturation 
and possession, the fact of the particular experience, the state 
and degree of acquaintance incurred," these elements, he says, 
constitute the circumstances of the interest of a novel: the in- 
terest itself lies where but in the "doing"? It lies, in short, not 
in the "matter" but in the "method" — and who had ever con- 
trived such a method as his? 

He had emerged as an impassioned geometer — or, shall we 
say, some vast arachnid of aft, pouncing upon the tiny air- 
blown particle and wrapping it round and round. And now a 
new prodigy had appeared, a style, the style that was the man 
Henry James had become. He had eschewed the thin, the sharp, 
the meager; he had desired the rich, the round, the resonant, and 
all these things had been added unto him; everything that he 
had thought and felt and tasted and touched, the fabrics upon 
which his eyes had feasted, the colors that he had loved, the soft 


Van Wyck Brooks 

sounds, the delicate scents, had left their stamp upon the house 
of his spirit. The house? — he had "thrown out extensions and 
protrusions, indulging even, all recklessly, in gables and pin- 
nacles and battlements, things that had transformed the unpre- 
tending place into a veritable palace, an extravagant, bristling, 
flag-flying structure that had quite as much to do with the air 
as with the earth. " His sense, like Adam Vcrvcr's, had been kept 
sharp, year after year, by the collation of types and signs, the 
comparison of fine object with fine object, of one degree of 
finish, of one form of the exquisite with another; and type and 
object and form had molded his style. Metaphors bloomed there 
like tropical air plants, throwing out 'branches and flowers; and 
every sound was muted and every motion vague. 

For other things had passed into this style — the evasiveness, 
the hesitancy, the scrupulosity of an habitually embarrassed 
man. The caution, the ccremoniousness, the baffled curiosity, 
the nervousness and constant self-communion, the fear of com- 
mitting himself — these traits of the self-conscious guest in the 
house where he had never been at home had fashioned with time 
the texture of his personality. They had infected the creatures 
of his fancy, they had fixed the character of his imaginative 
world; and behind his novels, those formidable projections of a 
geometrical intellect, were to be discerned now the confused 
reveries of an invalid child. For in his prolonged association with 
people who had merely glimmered for him, in the constant ab- 
rogation of his moral judgment, in these years of an enchanted 
exile in a museum world — for what else had England ever been 
for him? — Flenry James had reverted to a kind of childhood. 
Plots thronged through his mind, dim figures which, like his 
own Chad and Strether, "passed each other, in their deep im- 
mersion, with the round, impersonal eye of silent fish"; and 
with these figures, as with pawns or paper soldiers, he devised his 
labyrinthine games. What interested him was not the figures 
but their relations, the relations which alone make pawns sig- 

Glance at these stories. Do they "correspond with life . . . 
life without rearrangement"? A man procures as a private pre- 
serve an altar in a Catholic church {The Altar of the Dead). A 


The Question of Henry James 

great author dies in a country house because he is afraid to of- 
fend his hostess by going home (The Death of the Lion), A 
young man breaks his engagement to marry a girl he is in love 
with in order to devote his life to the discovery of the "inten- 
tion" of a great author (The Figure in the Carpet), A young 
man who is described as a "pure, passionate, pledged Radical" 
agrees to act against his beliefs, stand as the Tory candidate, and 
marry a girl he dislikes in order to keep his family estate 

(Covering End), The guests in a country house devote them- 
selves for three days to "nosing about for a relation that a lady 
has her reasons for keeping secret" (The Sacred Fount). A 
French countess who is presented to us as the type of the great 
lady loses her self-command she is discovered in an equiv- 
ocal situation, thrusts her daughter forward as a scapegoat, and 
joins in a conspiracy not to hear the name of a certain undistin- 
guished toilet article (Madame de Vionnct in The Auibas- 
sadors), A young man who is represented as "a gentleman, gen- 
erally sound and generally pleasant," straightway appears with- 
out any adequate explanation as engaged in the most atrocious 
of conspiracies (Merton Densher in The Wings of the Dove). 
Two young men put away in a drawer without opening it a will 
which they have every right to open only to discuss for hours 
what the will probably contains (The Ivory Tower). A young 
man who is deeply in love abandons his betrothed because he is 
more deeply in love with a house he had inherited in London 

(The Sense of the Past). The reason we find these stories so op- 
pressive is that they do not follow the lines of life. The people 
act out of character (Merton Densher), or in a fashion that 
belies their author's professions for them (the Countess de 
Vionnet), or in violation of the nature of things (the man who 
monopolizes the altar in the Catholic church) , or as characters 
can only act with impunity to the author when they arc pre- 
sented ironically. It is intolerable to be asked to regard as 
"great" the Lion who is so afraid of his hostess, or as honorable 
the young politician who changes his party to save his house, or 
as worthy of our serious attention the lover who prefers his 
furniture to his mistress.- Reset in the key of satire all these 


Van Wyck Brooks 

themes would be plausible; but James gathers grapes of thorns 
and figs of thistles. 

No, the behavior of his characters bears no just relation to the 
motives that arc imputed to them. They arc "great," they are 
"fine," they arc "noble" — and they surrender their lovers and 
their convictions for a piece of property. They arc "eminent" 
— and their sole passion is inquisitivencss. Magnificent preten- 
sions, petty performances! — the fruits of an irresponsible imagi- 
nation, of a deranged sense of values, of a mind working in the 
void, uncorrected by any clear consciousness of human cause 
and effect. This is the meaning of Mr. Richard Curie's remark 
that James had become the "victim of his own personality." The 
general impression these writings give us — to quote a phrase 
from The Spectator, is "that of a world in which a brilliant 
conjuror manipulates puppets of his own invention, not one in 
which the experience of real life is transmuted in the crucible 
of creative genius." 


, * 



Henry James and the Nostalgia o£ Culture 


THERE is a suggestion of irony in the fact that one of our 
earliest realists, who was independent enough to break with 
the romantic tradition, should have fled from the reality that 
his art presumably would gird itself up to deal with. Like his 
fellow spirit Whistler, Henry James was a lifelong pilgrim to 
other shrines than those of his native land, who dedicated his 
gifts to ends that his fellow Americans were indifferent to. Life, 
with him, was largely a matter of nerves. In this world of 
sprawling energy it was impossible to barricade himself securely 
against the intrusion of the unpleasant. His organism was too 
sensitive, his discriminations too fine, to subject them to the vul- 
garities of the Gilded Age, and he fled from it all. He early con- 
vinced himself that the American atmosphere was uncongenial 
to the artist. 1 The grotesqueries of the frontier irruption, the 
crude turmoil released by the new freedoms, were no materials 
to appeal to one in search of subtleties, to one who was a lover 
of nocturnes in gray. And so, like Whistler, he sought other 
lands, there to refine a meticulous technique, and draw out ever 
thinner the substance of his art. 

The explanation of the curious career of Henry James, seek- 
ing a habitation between worlds and finding a spiritual home 
nowhere, is that he was never a realist. Rather he was a self- 
. deceived romantic, the last subtle expression of the genteel, who 

1 "Civilization at its highest pitch was the master passion of his mind, and his 
preoccupation with the international aspects of character and custom issued from 
the conviction that the rawness and rudeness of a young country were not incapable 
of cure by contact with more developed forms." Pclham Edgar, Henry James, Man, 
Author, pp. 40-41. 


Vernon Louis Parrington 

fell in love with culture and never realized how poor a thing f 
he worshiped. It was the first mistake of Henry James that he v 
romanticized Europe, not for its fragments of the medieval pic- 
turesque, but for a fine and gracious culture that he professed 
to discover there. With the naivete of the Age of Innocence he 
assumed that an aristocratic society — shall we say that of May- 
fair or the Quarticr Saint-Germain? — is a complex of subtle 
imponderables that one comes to understand and embody only 
through heritage; and it was an assumption even more romantic 
that these imponderables were so subtly elusive as to escape any 
but the subtlest art. Like Edith Wharton he erected this sup- 
positious culture into an abstract tertium qjiicl, something apart 
from social convention or physical environment, something em- 
bodied in the choicer spirits of a class that for generations pre- 
sumably had cherished them. Born of an unconscious inferiority 
complex in presence of a long-established social order to which 
he was alien, this romanticization of European culture worked 
to his undoing, for it constrained the artist to a lifelong pursuit 
of intangible realities that existed only in his imagination. The 
gracious culture that James persistently attributed to certain .• 
choice circles in Europe was only a figment of his romantic 
fancy — a fact that after long rambling on the continent and 
nearly forty years' unbroken residence in England, he came 
finally to recognize. It was this failure to find the substance of 
his dream that imparted to his work a note of wistfulness. He 
had quitted the land of his birth to seek his spiritual home else- 
where, yet increasingly he came to question the wisdom of his 
act. He suffered the common fate of the dcraciuc; wandering 
between worlds, he found a home nowhere. It is not well for the 
artist to turn cosmopolitan, for the flavor of the fruit comes 
from the soil and sunshine of its native fields. 

The spirit of Henry James marks the last refinement of the 
genteel tradition, the completest embodiment of its vague cul- J 
tural aspirations. All his life he dwelt wistfully on the outside 
of the realm he wished to be a free citizen of. Did any other 
professed realist ever remain so persistently aloof from the 
homely realities of life? From the external world of action he 
withdrew to the inner world of questioning and probing; yet 



The Question of Henry James 

even in his subtle psychological inquiries he remained shut up 
within his own skull-pan. His characters are only projections of 
his brooding fancy, externalizations of hypothetical subtleties. 
He was concerned only with nuances. He lived in a world of 
fine gradations and imperceptible shades. Like modern scholar- 
ship he came to deal more and more with less and less. It is this 
absorption in the stream of psychical experience that justifies 
one in calling Henry James a forerunner of modern expression- 
ism. Yet how unlike he is to Sherwood Anderson, an authentic 
product of the American consciousness! 



Henry James in the World 

[ 1934] 

T^TTHY did Henry James leave America in his young man- 
VV hood and go to England to live? This question — it is a 
good one, for it strikes straight at the motivation of an act 
which determined the whole trend of his life — has in recent 
years been played with and worried over by more than one 
intensely American-minded critic. An answer of sorts has come 
out of the welter of worry but it is not, I think, quite the right 
one. It is too much colored by a resentment against overt or 
covert criticism of America which is so typically American, and 
by the new psychology which is still in a hypothetical stage. 
The early answers to this question — it has, of course, been 
asked and answered before — were not based on hypothetical 
psychology new or old; they implied where they did not di- 
rectly charge that the choice was born of snobbery, toadyism, 
sycophancy, shame of his country and countrymen. His stric- 
tures on the bleak, provincial, American background in his 
Hawthorne and the "outrage on American girlhood" perpe- 
trated in "Daisy Miller were almost coincident; they roused an- 
tagonism whose bitterness wc can hardly realize today unless we 
go back and steep ourselves for a while in the period. Henry 
James is the most unrepresented and misrepresented figure in 
letters; the misrepresentation of him began then, exactly, in 
1879, znd reverberations of that old contemporary criticism are 
still sounding today. 

But we are more civil today. We have sunk the unlovely old 
epithets into a single word, "expatriate." Unfortunately, we 
have not sunk with them their old connotations which rise to 


The Question of Henry James 

the surface like oil. The gist of our modern thesis is, to begin 
with, and all flatly, that James was a failure because he was an 
expatriate, and so, in accordance with every psychological law 
of cause and effect, the answer to the good question of why he 
chose to live abroad is colored at once by that foregone dark 
conclusion. Under its shadow and in the none too steady light 
of the new psychology the answer appears to be that he fled 
from nightmare to sweet- dream; from the sinister symbol of 
failure and destruction (America) to the symbol of success 
through rebirth in the "great world" (Europe) ; that he fought 
there his lifelong battle against a foe he clearly perceived — the 
self-exiled American's superstitious valuation of Europe — but 
none the less died beguiled, deluded, still a child living in a fan- 
tasicd world. This modern elaboration is founded on what are, 
I think, really false premises: The first one, "All expatriates are 
failures!" But are they? The second, "Henry James was an ex- 
patriate!" But was he? 

"Expatriate" as a synonym for James's whole attitude toward 
America has become a favorite critical cliche. But is it the right 
word? As a noun, it is a bastard word; if we use coined words 
we should use them for. sole sake of expressing exactly what we 
are intending to say. This word carries with it the idea either 
of forced banishment, or of self-banishment, or of voluntary 
renouncement of citizenship in order to become citizen of an- 
other country. "Expatriate" covers James's situation during the 
last few months of his life; to the long backward stretch of his 
English residence it simply doesn't apply. And it may be said, 
almost omnisciently, that if the Great War had not forced regu- 
lations for aliens which made simple trips from Rye to London 
highly irritating, James would never have surrendered his 
American citizenship. He liked it; it was never a problem. 

We have only to look about us a little, however, to find the 
word which does describe his status as a permanent absentee 
from his country. James gives it to us himself, in a brief though 
exceedingly meaty essay which has been drawn on to prove him 
a regretful, discouraged, repentant "expatriate." In The Story- 
teller at Large: Mr. Henry Harlan d (a bit of fugitive prose of 
1898 never reprinted), which deals directly with Harland, a 


Edna Kenton 

self-exiled American in Europe, and indirectly throughout with 
the case — James's case — of "a citizen of the world," James 
speaks of ^/ispatriation and subtly defines it as a kind of detach- 
ment in viewpoint of, not severance of interest in, the birthland. 
It is a coined word, coined deliberately as he coined others at 
need for expressing fine shades and coined in this case from 
need of the prefix. A ^//spatriated point of view takes its place 
alongside that kind of curiosity he held so essential for appreci- 
ation, curiosity supremely ^interested, disentangled from per- 
sonal bias, and so at white heat, intent only on arriving at the 
truth of a particular case, whatever the truth might be. 

His small quarrel with Harland was that Harland's point of 
view was not dispatriated, disinterested, detached; that, with 
no strong impressions of America or Europe, with only a most 
acute sense of "the 'Europe* — (synthetic symbol!) — of the 
American mind/' simply surrender of surface to surface, he 
was merely skimming over the synthetic land, rooted nowhere, 
pausing nowhere to dig. This essay appeared thirty-six years 
ago, before most of what has since made the world a mere 
neighborhood was more than a dream. But thirty-six years ago, 
glancing at the old notion that a writer to have his own quality 
"must needs draw his sap from the soil of his origin," James 
pointed out that, since the days of Dickens, Scott, Balzac, Haw- 
thorne, the "globe is fast shrinking, for the imagination, to the 
size of an orange that can be played with," and that soon, suc- 
cessfully to emulate the old local concentration so involuntary 
in Dickens or Balzac, would be a rare and possibly beautiful 
tour de force. One "went abroad" in spite of oneself, and the 
good point of view for the artist was born of dispatriation, the 
point of view of "a citizen of the world." This is the full sense 
of The Story-teller at Large; it is poor stuff to quote in support 
of the theory that James regretted his long residence abroad. 

Full discussion of this moot question of "country" is con- 
tained in a single group of James's writings and there lies the 
answer to the whole affair. One of this group is the portrait of 
Hawthorne; another is the portrait of Story; the third is the 
portrait of an artist painted by himself. In his Hawthorne 
( 1 &79) James diagnosed the case of an American artist who 


The Question of Henry James 

stayed at home, even when he went abroad; an artist "become 
one by being just American enough, by the felicity of how the 
artist in him missed nothing, suspected nothing, that the ambi- 
ent air [of America] didn't affect him as containing." (That 
sentence is James at his best, deftly protecting his subject by 
way of praise and hosannas.) In William Wet more Story and 
His Friends (1903) he analyzed, once for all, in two close- 
packed volumes, the case- of an American artist who, missing 
everything in America's ambient air, both what it contained 
and what it didn't, and turning therefore in aesthetic disgust a 
permanent back on his country, lacked enough sap drawn from 
his native soil to survive transplantation. In the autobiographies 
and prefaces (and in the Letters) James gave us the case of an 
artist American enough, as Story was not, to take a natively 
developed vigor with him to Europe; and artist enough, as 
Hawthorne was not, to feel need of free range through other 
cultures and manners. Hawthorne, pure provincial, pure native, 
flowered into eternal, native, provincial charm just because his 
aesthetic demands were not too much for his slender aesthetic 
equipment. He drank from his own small glass. Story, rooted 
neither in Salem nor Boston, in Italy branched and leaved in 
a dozen directions but never flowered in one. The victim of 
mere bcguilcment, hagridden by a superstitious valuation of 
Europe, his career was "a soft of beautiful sacrifice to a noble 
mistake," the mistake being, all simply, "the frank consent to 
be beguiled." James, too much the artist not to miss what Amer- 
ica didn't contain, but also too much the artist to miss anything 
and everything it did hold, turned only his literal back on his 
literal country. There are pages in plenty, in Notes of a Son 
and Brother, where the process of his realization both of his 
Americanism and of its high value to be is intimately disclosed. 
We can stand by, can watch it unfold. America plus Europe 
equals what? — this was the sum he set about adding up. Amer- 
ica minus Europe was Hawthorne's simple problem; as Europe 
minus America was Story's more complicated one. The solu- 
tions of these formulae, what they "equal," lie before us in the 
body of work of each of the dissimilar three. 

Without his "American subject" James would have been, as 


Edna Kenton 

he somewhere frankly confesses, nowhere at all; on it his long 
career opened and closed. In this group of his writings, then, 
since the relation between artist and subject is the paramount 
one, the general idea that most interested Hawthorne, Story, 
and James plays a part as important as country. In the Story 
biography the case of the American artist at large in Europe 
is the theme, illustrated by more examples than Story's. Its aes- 
thetic moral — the core of its more than sewen hundred pages 
is this: — that the artist must have a country of his own and that 
his relation to his subject is that country. If his subject is purely 
American, as was Hawthorne's; if his relation to it is purely 
American, as was Hawthorne's (and never so much as in The 
Marble Faun), then he is no citizen of the great world. If he 
has no subject; if, like Story, he never lacks a subject, is facile 
but is never possessed by or in possession of the subject about 
which everything centers, then he has no country of his own. 
If, on the other hand, his subject is one which must feed on 
comparisons and contrasts, as James's avowedly and provably 
was, then, so long as his relation to it is constant, he is always 
at "home." All this and much more lies under the surface of a 
long letter to Edith Wharton of 19 12, where, after discussing 
her latest "international" novel, The Reef, the meanwhile pro- 
tecting his disinterested opinion of it with admirable finesse, 
he said: *\ . . your only drawback is not having the homeliness 
and the inevitability and the happy limitation and the affluent 
poverty, of a Country of your Own (coiunie mot, par cx- 

Since James's American subject was an integral part of his 
general one, his projected treatment of it could not be Haw- 
thorne's close, confined, local kind — the treatment, so to say, 
of the village doctor, operating instinctively, with primitive in- 
struments, by a single, American light. James's treatment de- 
manded dispatriation as a sine qua 11011; disattachment from any 
single measure of values; the Spartan virtue, constantly prac- 
ticed for disinterested curiosity's sake, of triumph over distaste. 
It demanded — nothing less — the elimination of provincialism 
not only in attitude but in expression. 

Provincialism is, of course, not a matter of literacy or illit- 


The Question of Henry James 

eracy; it is a matter of attitude to the world at large. In its last 
analysis it is nothing more nor less than an unmuareness of the 
process and kind of life in other orders. In this sense, as James 
ironically indicates in the Story biography, Judge Story, who 
never left his native soil, was both New Englandcr and man of 
the world; while his son, disdaining his New England heritage 
and living a lifetime in Europe, remained a provincial always. 
Certainly, it was not to take on Story's kind of Europeanized 
provincialism that James went abroad to shed his own. And 
nothing is clearer than that he had not abandoned America once 
for all when he went over to live, in 1875. Entirely too much 
has been made of this "struggle," this "conflict"; most of it is 
mere hangover of sentimentality from that most sentimental 
decade. Within three years he was writing his brother William 
of a plan to return in a couple of years for a twelvemonth, 
"and see everything of the country I can, including Washing- 
ton." This is the letter in which occurs the much-quoted line: 
"I know what I am about, and I have always my eyes on my 
native land." He carried out this plan; he did come back in 
188 1 ; spent weeks in Washington, near Henry Adams; 
". . . had a plan of travelling all about the country this win- 
ter," Howells wrote John Hay early in 1882; but the plan was 
broken by his mother's sudden death the February after his 

Half a dozen years later, in another much-quoted letter to 
William, he set down his conclusions on the relations between 
the two great English-speaking countries: they were more like 
than unlike, were but different chapters of the same general 
subject with which fiction could magnificently deal under one 
great condition. "I have not," he wrote, "the least hesitation in 
saying that I aspire to write in such a way that it would be im- 
possible to an outsider to say whether I am at a given moment 
an American writing about England or an Englishman writing 
about America (dealing as I do with both countries,) and far 
from bching ashamed of such an ambiguity I should be ex- 
ceedingly proud of it, for it would be highly civilized." It would 
be the last, fine product of deliberate dispatriation — expression 
from which every last dreg of provincialism, American or Eng- 

Edna Kenton 

lish, had been filtered out, with the great mother tongue left 
pure. It constituted an attitude in itself, it must be admitted, 
for Henry James consciously in his youth to have set about the 
attainment of such a point of view and such a rendering of it. 
So he went to England to live, to observe, to register notes and 
impressions. Because he was "foreign," his observation was 
keener; he noticed things Englishmen didn't; of English usage, 
manners, modes of thought and action. The English talk in his 
novels is better than the English talk in English novels; it is 
English talk itself in its finest shades. Amazed Englishmen noted 
it and at times resented it; An International Episode they re- 
sented extremely. Their reactions to this particular tale gave 
James more notes, more insight. ". . . for a Bostonian nymph 
to reject an English duke," he replied to one challenge, "is an 
adventure only less stirring, I should say, than for an English 
duke to be rejected by a Bostonian nymph. I see dramas within 
dramas in that, and innumerable poin':s of view." Englishmen 
noted, too, the American talk in his novels. It was not English 
talk but neither was it the American talk in English novels. 
Without other expedient James turned up English provincialism 
before English eyes. He represented Englishmen to Englishmen, 
Americans to Americans, and each to the other, as no novelist 
before or since has succeeded in doing. It is as if he had lived 
his life as unrecognized, unauthorized, undreamed-of ambassa- 
dor of letters at large. America, England, France, Italy, Ger- 
many, Russia — he rounded them all and included them in his 
mission. In this light, in the light of the biographies and the au- 
tobiographies we have glanced at, the tears shed over his so- 
called, lifelong struggle between countries must strike us as 
slightly mawkish. Life is a struggle, wherever we are. But Henry 
James was "between" countries. There lay his subject and his 
relation to it, and there was his home. 


The American 

C *93* ] 

THE Civil War has been considered a prime destructive agent 
in the life of the nation, warping or even destroying a na- 
tive culture. But the literature of the fifties had never been 
truly complete. Uncalculating digressions might have followed 
even though there had been no catastrophe. In spite of the dis- 
ruption of the war a determined experiment continued through 
the sixties, seventies, and eighties. The international scene be- 
came a great American scene, even in a sense the great American 

Few ideas had disturbed the American mind more acutely 
than those which had to do with the European relationship. In 
the sixties the early commentaries of European travelers still 
rankled: Tuckerman gathered them into a compendious volume, 
with rejoinders. But the old fable had undergone a change. In 
its last notable version, Our American Cousin, the nationalistic 
hero 'had exhibited his character and enjoyed his adventures in 
England, and possessed an English heritage. He was in fact one 
of those "dispossessed princes and wandering heirs" of whom 
Henry James was to write. In spite of the burlesque the gesture 
of disseverance had grown less positive in Mark Twain's long 
skits. The American went abroad, often to stay; sentiment over- 
spread his return to "our old home," and that preoccupation 
with art which had been satirized in Innocents Abroad became 
one of his larger preoccupations. 

This was mixed with a consideration which had long since 
been borne in upon the American mind by British criticisms. 
Culture was an obvious proof of leisure, of long establishment, 


Constance Rourke 

of half a hundred desirable assurances that had been lacking in 
American life; it even seemed to resolve the vexing problem of 
manners. Culture was sought abroad as a tangible emblem. The 
resultant "pillage of the past" was to mount to monstrous pro- 
portions, and to include the play of many unworthy instincts — 
ostentation, boredom, a morbid inversion of personal desires; 
often, no doubt, it represented a natural response to the fine ac- 
cumulations of time. Yet surely on the wide scale it was some- 
thing more than these. Fumbling and fantastic, the restless habit 
seemed an effort to find an established tradition, with the so- 
lidity, assurance, and justification which traditions may bring. 
The American wish for establishment had often seemed a fun- 
damental wish, with all the upheaval. 

Many Americans continued to make the extravagant denials 
of Innocents Abroad, but the exodus was unbroken, and found 
an interpreter in Henry James. His talk of "dispossessed princes 
and wandering heirs" was not without a personal connotation. 
As a young man, considering Europe, he had wondered how he 
was to come into his "own." "The nostalgic poison had been 
distilled for him," he declared, speaking of himself. James be- 
came indeed, as Van Wyck Brooks has said, "an immortal sym- 
bol." Strangely enough in this connection, he was something 
more: an American artist who worked within native sequence. 

Henry James has been pictured as a troubled evasionist with- 
out a country; and the charge has been turned to a militant 
charge against American civilization. Yet this theory can hardly 
account for the long engagement of a major talent. Such talent 
usually has only one great subject; the choice of that subject 
will be instinctive, resting upon innumerable elements of herit- 
age and of intimate experience. The consciousness of the Euro- 
pean relationship had been binding in America. Given favoring 
observation, some considerable artist was bound to use the inter- 
national scene and to find its richest content. 

But even a major talent will need the impetus which may 
come from other imaginative approaches. As formal literary ex- 
pression of the time is scanned nothing arises to account for the 
scope and intention of James. He had none of those slightly in- 
ferior forerunners in his own medium by which the great writer 


The Question of Henry James 

is often heralded. He wrote as from a fresh impulse; yet the 
way for his achievement had been opened by a popular van- 
guard with whose efforts he had some contact. As a small boy 
he frequented Barnum's, where the Yankee farces were often 
performed, where the whole American legend was racily 
sketched, with the backwoodsman and the minstrel as occa- 
sional figures, and with melodrama well to the fore. Our Ameri- 
can Cousin achieved its first great success when James was a lad 
of fifteen; the play created an immense volume of talk, and was 
continued for many years. During James's boyhood the streets 
of New York were alive with the color of the California ad- 
venture, with its outlining of the composite American char- 

Somewhere James has spoken of the novelist's aptitude for 
judging the whole piece by a small bit of pattern. Such hints 
as those abroad in New York during the fifties could go far 
with a sensitive young mind like his; and others existed to 
complement them, in the London magazines read before the 
fire in the New York house, in the visits of Thackeray there, 
in the glimpses of the great foreign world afforded by the con- 
stant voyaging of the family to Europe. James never lost the 
sense of romance with which his youthful apprehensions of 
Europe were tinged. He was to write of the European scene with 
warmth and luster and enchantment; even his dull passages have 
their inner glow. But he began on humble, even primitive 
ground in his consideration of the American character as this 
appeared within the European scene; and he kept throughout 
his life convictions which he must have drawn from the fund 
of a common native experience. 


James was bent upon a purpose that had absorbed many 
American fabulists, that of drawing the large, the generic, 
American character. Deliberately, it seems, he abandoned the 
portrayal of local figures, though for this he had a singular 
genius: in regions familiar to him he caught the local speech, the 
manner, the inevitable effect of background. Barring the char- 


Constance Rourke 

actcrs in The Europeans and The Bostoniam and a scattering 
few elsewhere, his Americans are nomadic and rootless; even 
when they arc seen on American soil they belong to no special 
locality; they are the composite type; the broad lineaments are 
unmistakable. He wrote of an American ''confidence that broke 
down ... a freedom that pulled up nowhere ... an idyllic 
ease that was somehow too ordered for a primitive social con- 
sciousness and too innocent for a developed." In drawing Rod- 
erick Hudson, with his "instinctive quickness of observation 
and his free appropriation of whatever might serve his purpose," 
James seemed to have in mind something more than a character: 
his young sculptor becomes a national type. "His appetite for 
novelty was insatiable, and for everything characteristically for- 
eign, as it presented itself, he had an extravagant greeting; but 
in half an hour the novelty had faded, he had guessed the secret, 
he had plucked out the heart of the mystery, and was clamor- 
ing for a keener sensation. . . . The boy was living too fast 
. . . and giving alarming pledges of ennui in his later 
years. . . ." 

James was candid, as the early fabulists had been candid. He 
wrote of Americans who treated Europe "collectively, as a vast 
painted and gilded holiday toy, serving its purpose on the spot, 
but to be relinquished, sacrificed, broken and cast away, at the 
dawn of any other convenience." Using the familiar symbolism 
of the comic name, he pictured the conquering Mrs. Headway, 
who by a gros9 energy and with impenetrable surfaces achieved 
an external European triumph. 

He pictured Mr. Leavenworth, "a tall, expansive, bland gen- 
tleman, with a carefully brushed whisker and a spacious, fair, 
well-favored face, which seemed somehow to have more room 
in it than was occupied by a smile of superior benevolence, so 
that (with his smooth white forehead) it bore resemblance to 
a large parlor with a very florid carpet but no pictures on the 
walls." Mr. Leavenworth was in fact the pretentious consum- 
mation of a dominating American idea. "You may be sure that 
I have employed a native architect for the large residential 
structure that I am erecting on the banks of the Ohio," he said 
to Roderick Hudson. "In a tasteful home, surrounded by the 


The Question of Henry James 

memorials of my wanderings, I hope to recover my moral tone. 
I ordered in Paris the complete appurtenances of a dining-room. 
Do you think you could do something for my library? It is to 
be filled with well-selected authors, and I think a pure white 
image in this style" — he pointed to one of Roderick's statues — 
"standing out against the morocco and gilt, would have a noble 
effect. The subject I have already fixed upon. I desire an alle- 
gorical representation of Culture. Do you think now," Mr. 
Leavenworth inquired, "you could rise to the conception?" 

These questing Americans — J.imes showed some of them full 
of an eager pathos, others as indifferent and lost, moving about 
the world for lack of another occupation. He made an inclu- 
sion that went far beyond the efforts of any American before 
his time, except that of Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter. He 
drew American women at full length. With the exception of 
Christopher Newman and Roderick Hudson and a few others 
the most significant of James's characters are women: it is they 
who engage in disastrous encounters abroad, they who embody 
diverse and contradictory American elements. Isabel Archer, 
Milly Theale, Mary Garland — their number could be extended: 
their close and delicate portraiture seemed James's greatest pre- 
occupation. Some of his lesser feminine figures reveal hardy 
American habits; it is they who most often indulge in the mono- 
logue. "I don't apologize, Lord Lambeth," said Mrs. Westgate; 
"some Americans are always apologizing; you must have noticed 
that. We've the reputation of always boasting and 'blowing' 
and waving the American flag; but I must say that what strikes 
me is that we're perpetually making excuses and trying to 
smooth things over. The American flag has quite gone out of 
fashion; it's very carefully folded up, like a tablecloth the worse 
for wear. Why should we apologize? The English never apolo- 
gize — do they? No, I must say / never apologize. You must take 
us as we come — with all our imperfections on our heads. Of 
course we haven't your country life and your old ruins and 
your great estates and all that. . . ." On she went at immense 
length, this pretty lady, then and later, "with a mild merciless 
monotony, a paucity of intonation, an impartial flatness that 
suggested a flowery mead scrupulously 'done over* by a steam 


Constance Rourke 

roller that had reduced its texture to that of a drawing-room 

The true heroines of James usually possess a bias of tempera- 
ment which had appeared more than once in the fable of the 
contrast and casually elsewhere: Poe had stressed it. "Morella's 
erudition was profound." "I have spoken of the learning of 
Ligeia: it was immense — such as I have never known in women." 
The shadow is not deep in James's novels, but it exists. Mrs. 
Wcstgate's sister was little Bessie Alden, a great reader, who 
united native inquisitiveness with a sturdy integrity. There was 
Mary Garland, a prim and pretty bluestocking. The young 
women in The Europeans — the true Americans — appear against 
a background of high thinking; and those in The Boston tans 
form a galaxy absorbed in esoteric knowledge. When these 
women arc not directly absorbed in books they are likely to ful- 
fill the general intention by a definite leaning toward the arts: 
Isabel Archer walked blindly to her fate because of her belief in 
the fine accumulations of time. Occasionally James pictured the 
child of nature — fully feminine at last — as in Daisy Miller or 
Pandora Day, thus following another tradition; but in the main 
the women with whom he was most deeply engaged took the 
aloof, the conscious, the slightly studious part. 

Portrait after portrait becomes clear in the great range of his 
novels and short stories. An entire gallery of characters is cre- 
ated to which Americans may well turn for knowledge and 
social experience and enlargement, or even for a sense of re- 
newal. They are more than types: they are a whole society of 
typical individuals: they appear with narrow aggressions and 
an insukr nobility, a careless honesty, a large and delicate pur- 
pose. Their ambitions are often blind, or have grown hard and 
unerring. This society of migratory Americans was a provincial 
society, transcending provincialism only by fine character. Race, 
history, even a sense of the future, is upon these people; they 
still remain singularly inclusive. They offer indeed a legible 
critique of the American character for those who care to read 
it; and in the end they reveal more than one unmistakable bias 
which had appeared in earlier years. 

The wilderness and the farm had gone: only their faint traces 




The Question of Henry James 

were discernible in these narratives. James noted in Mr. "West- 
gate a face of toil, a voice of leisure; he remarked a peculiar 
blankness on the faces of older women who may have belonged 
to a pioneer society. But for the most part the level has changed; 
these are people of leisure; they are distinctly urban. The range 
was wide, the innovation profound; the accomplishment of 
James, who began to write soon after the Civil War, seems little 
short of miraculous when set against the spare and simple por- 
traiture of earlier years. Yet his illumination of the American 
character may have grown bright and deep because he accumu- 
lated energy from that portraiture, because he possessed the 
momentum which a tradition may give. He was grounded in 
the Yankee fable; his basic apprehension of the American char- 
acter was that which had been drawn there. He was acutely sen- 
sitive to foreign criticism, as a long line of popular writers had 
been before him. 

"It was not in the least of American barbarism that she was 

afraid," he wrote of Lady Barbcrina. "Her dread was all of 

American civilization." The satirical recognition included the 

familiar foreign charge. In 'Pandora the German envoy was on 

his way "to explore a society abounding in comic aspects" — 

< < an American society comic to the European. Repeatedly James 

\;\ set. the wickedness or subtlety or deceit of Europeans against 

. c ''. American innocence. The contrast is clear in the small en- 

V <^.? counters of Four Meetings; it lies at the basis of An Inter- 

V national Episode; it is dramatically posed, with all the implica- 

( tions of a wounding British scorn, in The Modern Warning, 

• * \ Even such fine characters as Kate Croy and Mcrton Densher re- 

.,.'* j veal an ancestral blackness, against which is drawn the touching 

v <* jj and exquisite nobility of Milly Theale, an American. 

In later years James denied that the innocent Americans In 

. • The Wings of the Dove and The Golden Bawl were exhibited 

as Americans; yet the contrast remains. James never presented 

v , its opposite terms with imaginative force; and the pattern was 

v ' s repeated too often to be anything but the outgrowth of a pro- 

^. Y found conviction. He was captivated by the vision of American 

innocence. In The Europeans the American characters appear 

as the very perfection of a delicate and straitened purity — those 


Constance Rourke 

indigenous Americans who were being contrasted with vagrant 
others born and bred in Europe. They were "charming," these 
true characters, as Felix said, "in a style of their own. How shall 
I describe it? It's primitive; it's patriarchal; it's the ton of the 
golden age." In one of his later prefaces James wrote with an 
almost hysterical emphasis of "the comparative state of inno- 
cence of my country folk." 

Truly enough, this preoccupation may have been strength- 
ened by influences outside the old view. The endowment of in- 
nocence for heroes and heroines alike had been present in the 
English novels of his period in a fanciful extreme, and it was 
not unnatural for the son of the elder Henry James to be con- 
cerned with moral and ethereal qualities. Truly enough, too, his 
portrayals often reach far beyond simple effects of contrast and 
comprise a revelation of moral beauty transcending national 
considerations altogether; and the pattern was often broken by 
gross contradictions and incongruities. Yet innocence as drawn 
by Henry James remains rooted in an established idea. In The 
American he wrote the complete fable, with an altered ending. 


Even the title was a fulfillment. Who ever heard of a signifi- 
cant English novel called The Englishman or an excellent 
French novel called Le Francais? The simple and aggressive 
stress belonged to an imagination perennially engaged by the 
problem of the national type. The name Newman had signifi- 
cance, faintly partaking of that comic symbolism by which a 
hero in one of the Yankee fables was called Jedidiah Homebred. 

At the opening of the story, as Newman strolled through the 
Salon Carre examining masterpieces, James declared that no one 
with an eye for types could have failed to perceive that he was 
an American. "Indeed such an observer might have made an 
ironic point of the almost ideal completeness with which he 
filled out the mold of race. . . . He had the flat jaw and firm, 
dry neck which are frequent in the American type. . . . Long, 
lean, and muscular, he suggested an intensity of unconscious 
resistance. . . . His usual attitude and carriage had a liberal 


The Question of Henry James 

looseness; but when, under a special intensity of inspiration, he 
straightened himself, he looked like a grenadier on parade/' 
Newman was of the familiar build; he had the familiar con- 
sciousness of costume; in an ensuing scene he appeared in a 
blue satin cravat of too light a shade and with a shirt front 
obtrusively wide. But according to James it was the eye, of a 
clear, cold gray, that told the final story: "an eye in which the 
unacquainted and the expert were singularly blended"— the in- 
nocent and the shrewd. "I can't make you out," said Mrs. Tris- 
tram, "whether you are very simple or very deep." 

Newman's local origin was never given; though he stemmed 
from the Yankee, he was not of New England, certainly not of 
Boston. The Pacific Coast had been the scene of his financial 
successes; and these were fixed as occurring before 1868, that is, 
during the period of the gold rush. He might have been in San 
Francisco or Virginia City with Mark Twain; he had habits of 
the time and place. 'Tie had sat with western humorists in cir- 
cles around cast-iron stoves and had seen tall stories grow taller 
without toppling over, and his imagination had learnt the trick 
of building straight and high." Young Madame de Bellegarde 
said that if she had not known who Newman was she could 
have taken him for a duke — an American duke, the Duke of 
California. "The way you cover ground!" said Valentin de 
Bellegarde. "However, being as you are a giant, you move nat- 
urally in seven league boots. . . . You're a man of the world 
to a livelier tune than ours." 

Fabulous stories were told about Newman. At the great ball 
given by the Bcllegardes he was presented to the Duchess, whose 
nodding tiara and triple chins and vast expanse of bosom 
troubled him, and who looked at him "with eyes that twinkled 
like a pair of polished pin-heads in a cushion." "With her little 
circle of admirers this remarkable woman reminded him of a 
Fat Lady at a fair." "I've heard all sorts of extraordinary things 
about you," she said, fixing her small, unwinking gaze upon 
him. "Voyons, are they true? . . . Oh, you've had your 
lcge?ide. You've had a career of the most chequered, the most 
bizarre. What's that about your having founded a city some 
ten years ago in the great West, a city which contains today half 

[i A 6] 

Constance Rourke 

a million inhabitants? Isn't it half a million, messieurs? You're 
exclusive proprietor of the wonderful place and are conse- 
quently fabulously rich, and you'd be richer still if you didn't 
grant land and houses free of rent to all newcomers who'll 
pledge themselves never to smoke cigars. At this game, in three 
years, we're told, you're going to become President of all the 

"He liked doing things that involved his paying for people," 
said James; "the vulgar truth is he enjoyed 'treating' them. . . . 
Just as it was a gratification to him to be nobly dressed, just so 
it was a private satisfaction (for he kept the full flavor of it 
quite delicately to himself) to see people occupied and amused 
at his pecuniary expense and by his profuse interposition. To 
set a large body of them in motion and transport them to a 
distance, to have special conveyances, to charter railway-car- 
riages and steamboats, harmonized with his relish for bold proc- 
esses and made hospitality the potent thing it should ideally be." 

Newman preserved a negligent air in such enterprises just as 
he casually gave an order for copies of half a dozen master- 
pieces to Mademoiselle Noemie in order to provide money for 
her dot. But he clearly saw the direction of Mademoiselle No- 
emie's purpose when she announced to him that her paintings 
were daubs in. the hope that her candor might bring her a more 
considerable profit. He passed over her declaration with his cus- 
tomary blankness, dropping into some hidden cavern of his 
mind the revelation that his taste had been at fault. "You've 
got something it worries me to have missed," said Valentin. "It's 
not money, it's not even brains, though evidently yours have 
•been excellent for your purpose. It's not your superfluous stature, 
though I should have rather liked to be a couple of inches taller. 
It's a sort of air you have of being imperturbably, being lrre- 
movably and indestructibly (that's the thing) at home in the 
world. When I was a boy my father assured me it was by just 
such an air that people recognized a Bellegarde. He called my 
attention to it. He didn't advise me to cultivate it; he said that 
as we grew up it always came of itself. . . . But you who, as 
I understand it, have made and sold articles of vulgar household 
use — you strike me — in a fashion of your own, as a man who 


The Question o£ Henry James 

stands about at his ease and looks straight over ever so many- 
high walls. I seem to see you move everywhere like a big stock- 
holder on his favorite railroad. You make me feel awfully my 
want of shares. And yet the world used to be supposed to be 
ours. What is it I miss?" 

Newman's reply was resounding, and might have been taken 
out of many an American oration of the past. "It's the proud 
consciousness of honest toil, of having produced something 
yourself that somebody has been willing to pay for — since that's 
the definite measure. Since you speak of my washtubs — which 
were lovely — isn't it just they and their loveliness that make up 
my good conscience?" 

"Oh, no; I've seen men who had gone beyond washtubs, who 
had made mountains of soap — strong-smelling yellow soap, in 
great bars; and they've left me perfectly cold." 

"Then it's just the regular treat of being an American citi- 
zen," said Newman. "That sets a man right up." 

The tone, as one knows Newman, was jocose, with an ad- 
mixture of serious conviction. It was the comic belligerent tone 
that had spread through the assertive nationalism of the Yankee 
fables; and James seemed to enjoy the mixed quality. He glossed 
over nothing, writing with gusto of Newman's early preoccu- 
pation with money, which had also been dominant in Yankee 
swapping and bargaining. He admitted that his hero considered 
"what he had been placed in the world for was . . . simply 
to gouge a fortune, the bigger the better, out of its hard mate- 
rial. This idea completely filled, his horizon and contented his 
imagination. Upon the uses of money, upon what one might do 
with a life into which one had succeeded in injecting the golden 
stream, he had up to the eve of his fortieth year very scantly 

"I cared for money-making, but I have never cared so very 
terribly about money," Newman told Madame de Cintre with 
expansive confidence, launching into self-revelation. As he sat 
in her drawing room he stretched his legs; his questions had a 
simple ease. "Don't you find it rather lifeless here," he inquired, 
"so far from the street?" "Your house is tremendously old 
then?" he asked a little later. When Valentin had found the 


Constance Rourke 

date, 1627, over the mantelpiece, Newman announced roundly, 
"Your house is of a very fine style of architecture/' "Are you 
interested in questions of architecture?" asked Valentin* "Well, 
I took the trouble this summer to examine— —as well as I can 
calculate; — some four hundred and seventy churches. Do you 
call that interested ?" "Perhaps you're interested in religion," 
answered his host. Newman considered for a moment. "Not ac- 
tively." He spoke as though it were a railroad or a mine; and 
he seemed quickly to feel the apparent lack of nicety. To cor- 
rect this he turned to Madame de Cintrd and asked whether she 
was a Roman Catholic. 

Satire invaded the portrait — a deep satire — but James loved 
Newman. Toward the end of his life he spoke of his young "in- 
fatuation" with his subject, and though by this he particularly 
meant an artistic absorption, his personal devotion was likewise 
plain. He revealed his hero as a man whom Madame de Cintre 
could love- — that creature "tall, slim, imposing, gentle, half 
grande dame and half an angel; a mixture of 'type' and sim- 
plicity, of the eagle and the dove." It was Newman's goodness 
which drew her; but this alone would not have sufficed for the 
daughter of an old race if goodness had not been joined with 
an essential dignity. 

But while Madame de Cintre and Valentin perceived the gen- 
uine stature of Newman others of his family remembered their 
prejudices. When Madame de Bellegarde first received Newman, 
knowing his wish to marry her daughter, she sat small and 
immovable. "You're an American," she said presently. "I've 
seen several Americans." "There arc several in Paris," said New- 
man gaily. "Oh, really? It was in England I saw these, or some- 
where else; not in Paris. I think it must have been in the Pyre- 
nees many years ago. I'm told your ladies are very pretty. One 
of these ladies was very pretty — with such a wonderful com- 
plexion. She presented me with a note of introduction from 
some one — I forget whom — and she sent with it a note of her 
own. I kept her letter a long time afterwards, it was so strangely 
expressed. I used to know some of the phrases by heart. But I've 
forgotten them now — it's so many years ago. Since then I've 

[149] . 

The Question of Henry James 

seen no more Americans. I think my daughter-in-law has; she's 
a great gadabout; she sees every one." 

Even the gentle Madame de Cintre furthered the critical note, 
perhaps from a mild notion that Newman would be amused. 
"I've been telling Madame de la Rochefidele that you're an 
American," she said as he came up to her in her salon. "It in- 
terests her greatly. Her favorite uncle went over with the 
French troops to help you- in your battles in the last century, 
and she has always, in consequence, wanted greatly to see one 
of your people. But she has never succeeded until tonight. 
You're the first — to her knowledge — that she has ever looked 
upon." Madame de la Rochefidele lifted an antique eyeglass, 
looked at Newman from head to foot, and at last said some- 
thing to which he listened with deference but could not under- 
stand, for Madame de la Rochefidele had an aged and cadaverous 
face with a failing of the lower jaw that impeded her utterance. 
Madame de Cintre offered an interpretation. "Madame de la 
Rochefidele says she's convinced that she must have seen Ameri- 
cans without knowing it." Newman considered that she might 
have seen many things without knowing it; and the French vis- 
itor, again speaking in an inarticulate guttural, said that she 
wished she had known it. This interchange was followed by the 
polite approach of a very elderly gentleman who declared that 
almost the first person he had looked upon after coming into 
the world was an American, no less than the celebrated Doctor 
Franklin. But he, too, in the circumstances, could hardly have 
known it. 

The animus of James, who has so often been pictured as a 
happy expatriate, mounted as such episodes recurred. At the 
great reception given by the Bellegardcs for Newman after the 
announcement of his engagement to Madame de Cintre, he was 
introduced to their friends by her elder brother. "If the Marquis 
was going about as a bear-leader," wrote James stormily, "the 
general impression was that the bear was a very fair imitation 
of humanity." James even made a comment on worldly society 
which might have derived from one of the early wise, wander- 
ing Yankees; its like had been heard in Fashion. "Every one 
gave Newman extreme attention: every one lighted up for him 


Constance Rourke 

regardless, as he would have said, of expense: every one looked 
at him with that fraudulent intensity of good society which 
puts out its bountiful hand but keeps the fingers closed over the 
coin." Nearly fifty years later James could betray an enduring 
bitterness. "Great and gilded was the whole trap set, in line, for 
his wary freshness and into which it would blunder upon its 

When the catastrophe came, when the Bellegardes broke their 
word and Claire was commanded to withdraw from her en- 
gagement, Newman was rejected and publicly humiliated be- 
cause he was American: they found themselves unable to tol- 
erate that circumstance in relation to their family. He was re- 
jected on the score of manners — the old and vexing score. He 
should have known that to ask the old Marquise to parade 
through her own rooms on his arm the evening of the ball 
would be almost an affront. When the journey was accomplished 
and she said, "This is enough, sir," he might have seen the gulf 
widening before his eyes. His commercial connections were held 
against him; and James pointed the irony of the objection. The 
Bellegardes were shown as sordidly commercial; in shrewdness 
they far outdistanced Newman. He was beaten, indeed, because 
he was incapable of suspecting the treachery accumulating 
against him. At the end Newman was unable to maintain his 
purpose of revenge against the Bellegardes; he destroyed the 
scrap of evidence which would have proved their earlier inhu- 
man crime. His act is not overstressed; a deep-lying harshness 
gave stringency to Newman's generous impulses. But the con- 
trast is firmly kept. 

With all the preordained emphasis these characters are 
rounded and complete. The integrity of Valentin was placed 
against the unscrupulous coldness of his older brother. Claire, 
with her lovely purity, lights the black picture created by the 
Marquise. If the balance seems to be tipped down by the inclu- 
sion of Mademoiselle Nioche and her deplorable father, there 
is always Mrs. Bread. As a great artist James had moved immeas- 
urably beyond the simple limits of the original fable. A genuine 
tragedy was created whose elements were tangled deep in in- 
alienable differences. At the last Newman was unable to under- 


The Question of Henry James 

stand either the character or the decision of the woman he so 
deeply loved. Circling across the sea and the American con- 
tinent, he returned again to Paris by an irresistible compulsion, 
and at twilight one evening, a gray time, walked to the convent 
of the Carmelite order in the Rue d'Enfer and gazed at the high 
blank wall which surrounded it. Within, his beloved was forever 
enclosed, engaged in rites which he could never understand, 
withdrawn for reasons which he could not fathom. He could 
never pass beyond that wall, in body or in spirit. The image was 
final, and became a dramatic metaphor: in the spelling of the 
old fable the outcome had changed from triumph to defeat. De- 
feat had become at last an essential part of the national por- 


Almost invariably the opening moods and even the later se- 
quences of James's novels were those of comedy. He instinc- 
tively chose the open sunny level; the light handling of his early 
Confidence, uncomplicated by the international situation, shows 
what he could do in maintaining this when his materials per- 
mitted. He ran indeed through a wide gamut of humor, from 
that of the happy and easy view and a delicate satire to a broad 
caricature and irony. Social comedy appeared in Henry James. 
For the first time an American writer drew a society and infused 
his drawing with an acute sense of human disparities. Yet the 
aggregation of his novels does not spell comedy, but a kind of 
tretgedie Amcricainc, which was in large part a tragedy of man- 
ners. "I have the instincts — have them deeply — if I haven't the 
forms of a high old civilization," Newman told Claire de Cin- 
tre; but the instincts, if he possessed them, v/ere not enough. 
Daisy Miller, bringing down a storm of angry reproof upon 
James's head, was a classic instance which he multiplied with 
variations of subtlety and range. 

Defeat for the American adventurer was new, at least in wide 
transcription. Triumph had hitherto been the appointed destiny 
in American portraiture, except for vagabonds and common 
adventurers. Yet with all the tragic implications the ultimate 
ending. of these latter-day- fables was not that of tragedy. In 


Constance Rourke 

the midst of his final encounters with the forces of opposition 
Newman gathered his energies; his spirits rose. When he con- 
fronted the Marquis de Bellcgarde he "had a singular sensation; 
he felt his sense of wrong almost brim into gaiety." He could 
laugh during the momentous interview with Mrs. Bread; at one 
moment in their plotting his face "lighted with the candor of 
childhood." The mood was unreasoning, beyond reason: it was 
a typical mood, that of resilience under opposition or criticism. 
Finally, after all the conflict, after his searching and bafllcd ef- 
fort to understand inscrutable forces, this mood was resolved 
into something subtler and more enduring than resilience. When 
Newman stood before the wall that forever enclosed Claire de 
Cintre "the barren stillness of the place represented somehow 
his own release from ineffectual desire." Touching the nadir of 
despair and disillusionment, he was "disburdened" — free at last 
from those dark personalities by whom he had been cruelly 
wronged. He reached a moment of profound recognition, not 
perhaps of the inner character of the forces that worked against 
him — these he could never understand — but of his own final 
plight. He achieved that laden balance of mind and feeling from 
which an enduring philosophical comedy may spring. As one 
sees Newman beyond the end of the book he has become a far 
graver character, but for him something of humor might play 
quietly once more. 

Again and again James pictured this low-keyed humor of 
defeat. For Isabel Archer more than one way of escape lay open; 
fronting these possibilities, she made the choice which meant 
renunciation; and the outcome is not tragic, for all the wrench 
which it produces at the end, since James has revealed that free >. • 
poise and nobility of her character which made renunciation-in=__J\^ 
evitable and acceptance of her lot tolerable. Even The Wings ' 
of the Dove cannot be called tragedy. Milly Theale learned the 
worst there was to know of those to whom she was attached, 
their betrayal, their base purpose; yet with knowledge she still 
could keep a magnanimous love. James repeated this stress again 
in the recognition which finally lay between Kate Croy and 
Merton Denshcr. Each had plumbed a deep and even dangerous 
knowledge of the other; yet an indissoluble acceptance remained 


The Question of Henry James 

between them; and their final alliance had a touch of the secure, 
upward swing which belongs to comedy. 

In comedy reconcilement with life comes at the point when 
to the tragic sense only an inalienable difference or dissension 
with life appears. Recognition is essential for the play of a pro- 
found comedy; barriers must be down; perhaps defeat must lie 
at its base. Yet the outcome in these novels was in a sense the 
traditional outcome, for triumph was comprised in it; but the 
sphere had altered from outer circumstance to the realm of the 
mind and spirit; and triumph was no longer blind and heedless, 
but achieved by difficult and even desperate effort. 

In this outcome James, transcended the nationalistic altogether 
— that obsession which had had so long a history. Yet in the 
aggregate of his novels he repeated a significant portion of the 
old fable. He showed that the American was in truth what the 
belligerent Yankee had always declared him to be, a wholly 
alien, disparate, even a new character. In the end the primary 
concern of James was with that character; and he kept a famil- 
iar touch of the fabulous in his narratives. "I had been plotting 
arch-romance without knowing it," he said of The American; 
and by romance he meant what Hawthorne had meant, life with 
a touch of the marvelous, an infusion which can be apprehended 
only imperfectly by the sense of fact. Romance appeared in the 
generality and scale which James gave to his characters and to 
his situations. Such titles as The Whigs of the Dove and The 
Golden Boivl suggest a poetized conception completing the ro- 
mantic character of the themes; and his handling is kept free 
from complicated circumstance. Poetry indeed overspread much 
of James's writing. Like that of the popular fabulists, it was 
packed with metaphor. "The morning was like a clap of hands." 
"She carried her three and thirty years as a light-wristed Hebe 
might, have carried a brimming wine-cup." His figures could 
also be ironical; the romantic feeling is constantly enclosed by 
a close drawing. Recognition is fundamental in all of James's 
portraiture; yet a basic poetry of outline and expression remains 
clear, most of all in his later novels. Few writers have had so 
deep a sense of the poetry of character; and his poetical penetra- 


Constance Rourke 

tion was the rarer achievement because his approaches were not 
those of the primary emotions. 

In commentary James once spoke of one of the women whom 
he had drawn as "unaware of life." Elsewhere he wondered 
"what it might distinguishably be in their own flourishing 
Order that could keep them, the passionless pilgrims, so un- 
aware?" "Passionless'' surely was not meant to include his major 
characters; yet even they could not be called passionate in the 
sense that the characters in Wuthcring Heights arc passionate; 
it is significant of his obsessions that elsewhere James could give 
the attribute "passionate" to a pilgrim in quest of the past. For 
the most part emotion in these Americans in his wide gallery is 
frustrated, buried, or lost. Instead, renunciation, tenderness, 
pity, are likely to be dominant among them. The finest of these 
feelings do not belong to the primary emotions; they are re- 
strained or delicate or withdrawn. These characters indeed are 
of an established native mold; this diminution had prevailed 
elsewhere. In a fashion James himself revealed the same quali- 
ties; a profound tenderness suffuses the greatest of his writing, 
but not the compulsion of a deep and natural, simple emotion. 
He gains power by integrity, by a close intensity of view, often 
by intensity of the mind. His portrayals gain every possible con- 
centration from the high art by which they are revealed. 
"Dramatize! dramatize!" he said again and again; and the 
dramatic quality belonged to his writings at every point, in the 
ready immediacy of the talk, in the swift juxtapositions, in 
swift and daring ellipses, particularly in his later novels. At one 
point he considered that the drama was his true form. "I feel 
at last as if I had found my real form, which I am capable of 
carrying far, and for which the pale little art of fiction, as I 
have practiced it, has been, for me, but a limited and restricted 
substitute." James failed in writing drama; nothing of true 
dramatic expression had appeared in American literature, and 
he was not to transcend its tendency. He necessarily failed, lack- 
ing a depth of simple emotion; the approach to the drama had 
been made before without completion, perhaps for the same 
reason. James returned to the novel, and kept the dramatic or- 

The Question of Henry James 

The highly conscious artist was uppermost in Henry James; 
and he joined in the traditional bias toward the inward view. 
Strangely enough, though he had no New England ancestry and 
was likely to be positive in his declarations to the contrary, he 
came closer than any of the earlier American v/ritcrs to that 
introspective analysis which had belonged to the Puritan, closer 
even than Hawthorne. His scrutiny of motives, while delicate, 
was intense. He never used that direct revelation of elements in 
the stream of consciousness which had been ventured by Whit- 
man and Hawthorne before him; yet his later novels are full of 
the unsaid and understated; they are full of complex moods 
and states of inner feeling revealed by the slightest and most 
ephemeral of notations. Whether or not James was subject to 
some untraceable Puritan influence, whether he touched popu- 
lar sources, whether perhaps he gained greatly from the initial 
experiments of Hawthorne and Poe, his novels vastly amplified 
this new subject of the mind lying submerged beneath the scope 
of circumstance, which had long engaged the American imagi- 

V / 

Nearly always the mark of that era in which an artist is 
young will in some way lie upon his work, however far he may 
advance into the future. Henry James bore the mark of that 
deeply experimental era which came to a culmination in the late 
forties and early fifties. Like Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, Whit- 
man, he performed that difficult and elliptical feat by which a 
writer both invades a province and occupies it. Like them he 
was in a sense a primary writer. 

No American before him had made a full imaginative ap- 
proach to living characters and the contemporary scene; the 
view hitherto had been mainly the retrospective view. He 
greatly extended the areas of native comedy; he all but created 
a newsubject for the novel in his stress upon the inward view; 
he discovered the international scene, as Van Wyck Brooks has 
said, "for literature.*' There is irony in the fact that so wide 
and subtle an accomplishment should have been produced 
within a tradition that still bore the print of the pioneer. There 

Constance Rourke 

is a further irony in the circumstance that the American char- 
acter should first have been fully realized within the European 
scene. This remoteness has been considered a flight and a loss; 
and truly enough to have perceived that character with equal 
amplitude against the native background would have meant an 
immense gain in imaginative understanding. Yet James's choice 
fulfilled the consciousness of a fundamental relationship; only 
the denial had been abortive. 

The great experimental writer is like to betray signs of in- 
completion, to cover more than one era, to show hesitation as 
well as an unmistakable insecurity. James showed some of these 
signs. They are apparent in the great division between his later 
and his earlier writing, and in the incalculable abysms of his 
later style. In a strange fashion after the middle of his career 
he showed a partial reversal of his sense of language, which took 
on an extreme gentility even while it attempted that colloquial- 
ism which had been part of the American tradition. He strove 
for elegances like a minor writer of the thirties who sought to 
prove that Americans, too, could enter the stately domain of 
English literature. He used quotation marks to set off such 
phrases as "detective story,** and the attempted grace of his 
movements through the great morass of his words was often 
elephantine. In his final revisions of the earlier novels he often 
emasculated a vigorous speech. The result was a form of writing 
which was neither English nor American in character. Yet few 
experimental writers have maintained so fine an artistry or en- 
compassed with that artistry so great a scope. His failures are 
minor failures within a great original accomplishment. 
. Howclls was the only other measurable American writer of 
this time to employ the novclistic form; the concerns of Howells 
were largely regional; he was engaged by small portions of the 
American scene and of the American character; he never fused 
these into an unmistakable and moving whole. The real situation 
in Silas Lap/jam lay between the Yankee and the Bostonian, be- 
tween Lapham and the Coreys, between Penelope and young 
Corey. Here were elements of social comedy or tragedy, which 
Howells pictured in one scene which remains a high scene in 
American humor, full of comedy indeed, full of pathos and 


The Question of Henry James 

hurt — the scene of the Coreys' dinner party. But Howclls 
evaded the full scope of the indicated differences, packing Lap- 
ham off to Vermont and Penelope and young Corey to South 
America. He made the same evasion in The Lady of the Aroos- 
took, never showing Lydia in any prolonged contact with the 
superior Americans with whom her destinies were linked, never 
exploring the social situation beyond its superficial aspects, and 
again at the end sending his two major characters to far parts, 
where the manners and speech of the country girl need trouble, 
nobody, and where Howells, at any rate, was not troubled by 
ensuing complications. 

In spite of lapses in local observation, Howells had a striking 
aptitude for seizing essential elements in the native tradition: 
he knew the Yankee, the backwoodsman, the itinerant revival- 
ist. His narratives are full of prime comic sketches, full of a 
racy contemporary and local speech. They reveal, too, that 
acute and expressive awareness with which the American con- 
stantly viewed himself, his fellow countrymen, his nation. His 
young .men are always theorizing about America, and often have 
superior attitudes. "What a very American thing!" exclaims 
one of them when he heard Lydia saying "I want to know." 
"It's incredible," he continued. "Who in the world can she be?" 
The American quarrel with America, the product of a long self- 
consciousness, was beginning. 

Howells had it in his power to draw social comedy of breadth 
and the first order, for disparities of background were included 
within his view; he was grounded within the comic tradition. 
He might have been the great artist to picture the American 
against the native scene, complementing the portrayals of James 
abroad. He had all the gifts except a passionate concern with 
his subject. Whether from lassitude or from a fundamental lack 
of imagination he never truly explored his materials; not one of 
his novels can be put beside The Portrait of a Lady or The 
American. He veered from one theme to another, from one 
locale to another. His novels were in the end not novels at all 
but an invaluable collection of minor notations on the American 

Henry James stands alone in his time, not wholly to be ac- 


Constance Rourke 

counted for, not in any immediate sense productive as an influ- 
ence. He began writing in the sixties; his work was hardly a 
force among other writers for nearly half a century. In later 
years other American writers have followed him in using the 
international scene; yet his other great achievement, that of por- 
traying the inner mind, cannot be said to have given any no- 
table impetus to the American novel. It is abroad that the im- 
plications of his work have been pushed to their furthest bound- 
aries. Proust and Joyce, Dorothy Richardson and Virginia 
Woolf, may or may not have been influenced by James; but 
they have carried the whole stress of an American intention far 
beyond anything achieved by American writers, in their por- 
trayal of the inner consciousness. 

The fate of Henry James has been that of other primary 
writers within the American tradition. Each of these had 
stormed some battlement without a following sequence of writ- 
ers. The prolific energies that create an entire literature were 
lacking in this long period, though a widely flung pattern had 
been created which had freshness and even magnificence. 

[xj 9 ] 

, * 


The Ambiguity of Henry James 

[ 1934-33 ] 

A DISCUSSION of Henry James's ambiguity may appropri- 
ately begin with The Turn of the Screw. This story, which 
seems to have proved more fascinating to the general reading 
public than anything else of James's except Daisy Miller, ap- 
parently conceals another horror behind the ostensible one. I 
do not know who first propounded the theory; but Miss Edna 
Kenton, whose insight into James is profound, has been one of 
its principal exponents, and the late Charles Demuth did a set 
of illustrations for the story based on this interpretation. 

According to this theory, the young governess who tells the 
story is a neurotic case of sex repression, and the ghosts are not 
real ghosts at all but merely the hallucinations of the governess. 
Let us go through the story from the beginning. It opens with 
an introduction. The man who is presenting the governess's 
manuscript tells us first who she is. She is the youngest daugh- 
ter of a poor country parson, but "the most agreeable woman 
I've ever known in her position," who would have been "worthy 
of any whatever." She had come up to London and answered 
an advertisement and found a man who wanted a governess for 
his orphaned nephew and niece. "This prospective patron proved 
a gentleman, a bachelor in the prime of life, such a figure as 
had never risen, save in a dream or an old novel, before a flut- 
tered, anxious girl out of a Hampshire vicarage." It is made 
clear that the young woman has become thoroughly infatuated 
with her employer. He is charming to her and lets her have the 
job on condition that she will never bother him about the chil- 


Edmund Wilson 

dren; and she goes down to the house in the country where they 
have been left with a housekeeper and some other servants. 

The boy, she finds, has been sent home from school for rea- 
sons into which she does not inquire but which she colors, on 
no evidence at all, with a significance somehow sinister. She 
learns that the former governess left, and that she has since 
died, under circumstances which are not explained but which 
are made in the same way to seem ominous. She is alone with the 
illiterate housekeeper, a good and simple soul, and the children, 
who seem innocent and charming. As she wanders about the 
estate, she thinks often how delightful it would be to come 
suddenly round the corner and find that the master had ar- 
rived: there he would stand, smiling, approving, and handsome. 
>..fJShe is never tojmeet her employer again, but what she does 
^*meet, are the apparitions. One day when his face has been vividly 
in her mind, she comes out in sight of the house and sees the 
figure of a man on the tower, a figure which is not the master's. 
Not long afterward, the figure appears again, toward the end of 
a rainy Sunday. She sees him at closer range and more clearly: 
he is wearing smart clothes but is not a gentleman. The house- 
keeper, meeting the governess immediately afterward, behaves 
as if the governess herself were a ghost: "I wondered why she 
should be scared." The governess tells her about the apparition 
and learns that it answers the description of one of the master's 
valets who had stayed down there and used to wear his clothes. 
The valet had been a bad character, who used "to play with the 
boy ... to spoil him"; he had been found dead, having slipped 
on the ice coming out of a public house: it is impossible to say 
. that he wasn't murdered. The governess believes that he has 
come back to haunt the children. 

Not long afterward, she and the little girl are out on the 
shore of a lake, the little girl playing, the governess sewing. 
The latter becomes aware of a third person on the opposite side 
of the lake. But she looks first at the little girl, who is turning 
her back in that direction and who, she notes, has "picked up a 
small flat piece of wood, which happened to have in it a little 
hole that had evidently suggested to her the idea of sticking in 
another fragment that might figure as a mast and make the 



The Question of Henry James 

thing a boat. This second morsel, as I watched her, she was very 
markedly and intently attempting to tighten in its place." This 
somehow "sustains" the governess so that she is able to raise her 
eyes: she sees a woman "in black, pale and dreadful." She con- 
cludes that it is the former governess. The housekeeper tells her 
that her predecessor, though a lady, had had an affnir with the 
valet. The boy used to go off with the valet and then lie about 
it afterwards. The governess concludes that the boy must have 
known about the valet and the woman — the boy and girl have 
been corrupted by them. 
J t Observe that there is never any real reason for supposing that 
anybody but the governess sees the ghosts. She believes that the 
children see them, but there is never any proof that they do. 
The housekeeper insists that she does not see them; it is appar- 
ently the governess who frightens her. The children, too, be- 
come hysterical; but this is evidently the governess's doing, too. 
Observe, also, from the Freudian point of view, the significance 
of the governess's interest in the little girl's pieces of wood and 
of the fact that the male apparition first appears on a tower and 
the female apparition on a lake. There seems here to be only a 
single circumstance which does not fit into the hypothesis that 
the ghosts are hallucinations of the governess: the fact that the 
governess's description of the first ghost at a time when she has 
never heard of the valet should be identifiable as the valet by 
the housekeeper. And when we look back, we see that even this 
has been left open to a double interpretation. The governess has 
never heard of the valet, but it has been suggested to her in a 
conversation with the housekeeper that there has been some 
other male somewhere about who "liked everyone young and 
pretty," and the idea of this other person has been ambiguously 
confused with the master and with the master's possible interest 
in her, the present governess. And has she not, in her subcon- 
scious imagination, taking her cue from this, identified herself 
with her predecessor and conjured up an image who wears the 
master's clothes but who (the Freudian "censor" coming into 
play) looks debased, "like an actor," she says (would he not 
have to. stoop to love her!) ? The apparition had "straight, good 
features" and his appearance is described in detail. When we 



Edmund Wilson "" v*^" ' J?*^\k^s 

look back, we find that the master's appearance has never been 
described at all: we have merely been told that he was "hand- 
some." It is impossible for us to know how much the ghost 
resembles the master — certainly the governess would never tell 

The apparitions now begin to appear at night, and the gov- 
erness becomes convinced that the children get up to meet them, 
though they are able to give plausible explanations of their be- 
havior. The housekeeper tells the governess that she ought to 
report these phenomena to the master, if she is so seriously wor- 
ried about them. The governess, who has promised not to bother 
him, is afraid he would think her insane; and she imagines "his 
derision, his amusement, his contempt for the breakdown of my 
resignation at being left alone and for the fine machinery I had 
set in motion to attract his attention to my slighted charms." 
The housekeeper threatens to send for the master herself; the 
governess threatens to leave if she does. After this, for a con- 
siderable period, the visions no longer appear. 

The children become uneasy: they begin to wonder when 
their uncle is coming down; they want to write to him — but 
the governess suppresses their letters. The boy finally asks her 
frankly when she is going to send him to school, intimates that 
if he had not been so fond of her he would have written to his 
uncle long ago about her failure to do so, threatens to write him 
at once. 

This upsets her; she thinks for a moment of leaving, but. 
decides that this would be deserting them. She is apparently now) 
in love with the boy. The ghost of the other governess immedi- 
ately appears again, looking "dishonored and tragic," full of 
"unutterable woe.'* The new governess feels now — the morbid 
half of her split personality is getting the upper hand of the 
other — that it is she who is intruding upon the spirit instead 
of the spirit who is intruding upon her: "You terrible miserable 
woman!" she cries. The apparition disappears. She tells the 
housekeeper, who looks at her oddly, that the soul of the former 
governess is damned and wants the little girl to share her dam- 
nation. She finally agrees to write to the master, but no sooner 
has she sat down to the paper than she gets up and goes to the 

The Question of Henry James 

boy's bedroom, where she finds him lying awake. When he de- 
mands to go back to school, she embraces him and begs him to 
tell her why he was sent away; appealing to him with what 
seems to her desperate tenderness but what must seem queer and 
disquieting to the child, she insists that all she wants is to save 
him. There is the sudden gust of wind — it is a windy night out- 
side — the casement rattles, the boy shrieks. She has been kneel- 
ing beside the bed: when she gets up, she finds the candle ex- 
tinguished. "It was I who blew it, dear!" says the boy. For her, 
it has been the evil spirit disputing her domination. It does not 
occur to her that the boy may really have blown the candle 
out in order not to have to tell her with the light on about his 
disgrace at school. (Here, however, occurs the only detail which 
is not readily susceptible of double explanation: the governess 
has felt a "gust of frozen air" and yet sees that the window is 
"tight." Are we to suppose she merely fancied that she felt it?) 

The next day, the little girl disappears. They find her beside 
the lake. The young woman now for the first time speaks openly 
to one of the children about the ghosts. "Where, my pet, is Miss 
Jessel?" she demands — and immediately answers herself. "She's 
there, she's there!" she cries, pointing across the lake. The house- 
keeper looks with a "dazed blink" and asks where she sees any- 
thing; the little girl turns upon the governess "an expression of 
hard, still gravity, an expression absolutely new and unprece- 
dented and that appeared to read and accuse and judge me." 
The governess feels her "situation horribly crumble." The little 
girl breaks down, becomes feverish, begs to be taken away from 
the governess; the housekeeper sides with the child, and hints 
that the governess had better go. But the young woman forces 
her, instead, to take the little girl away; and she tries to make it 
impossible, before their departure, for the children to see each 

She is now left alone with the boy. A strange and dreadful 
scene ensues. "We continued silent while the maid was with us 
— as silent, it whimsically occurred to me, as some young couple 
who, on their wedding-journey, at the inn, feel shy in the pres- 
ence of the waiter." When the maid has gone, and she presses 
him to tell her why he was expelled from school, the boy seems 


Edmund Wilson 

suddenly afraid of her. He finally confesses that he "said things" 
— to "a few," to "those he liked." It all sounds very harmless: 
there comes to her out of her "very pity the appalling alarm of 
his being perhaps innocent. It was for the instant confounding 
and bottomless, for if he were innocent, what then on earth was 
/?" The valet appears at the window — it is "the white face of 
damnation." (But is the governess condemning the spirits to 
damnation or is she succumbing to damnation herself?) She is 
aware that the boy does not see it. "No more, no more, no 
more!" she shrieks to the apparition. "Is she here}" demands the 
boy in panic. (He has, in spite of the governess's efforts, suc- 
ceeded in seeing his sister and has heard from her of the inci- 
dent at the lake.) No, she says, it is not the woman; "But it's 
at the window — straight: before us. It's there!" . . . "It's he?" 
then. Whom does he mean by "he"? " 'Peter Quint — ycu devil!' 
His face gave again, round the room, its convulsed supplication. 
'Where?' " "What does he matter now, my own?" she cries. 
"What will he ever matter? 7 have you, but he has lost you for- 
ever!" Then she shows him that the figure has vanished: "There, 
there!" she says, pointing toward the window. He looks and 
gives a cry; she feels that he is dead in her arms. From her point 
of view, the disappearance of the spirit has proved too terrible a 
shock for him and "his little heart, dispossessed, has stopped"; 
but if we study the dialogue from the other point of view, we 
sec that he must have taken her "There, there!" as an answer to 
his own "Where?" Instead of persuading him that there is noth- 
ing to be frightened of, she has, on the contrary, finally con- 
vinced him cither that he has actually seen or that he is on the 
point of seeing something. He gives "the cry of a creature 
hurled over an abyss." She has literally frightened him to death. 
When one has once been given this clue to The Turn of the 
Screw, one wonders how one could ever have missed it. There is 
a very good reason, however, in the fact that nowhere does 
James unequivocally give the thing away: almost everything 
from beginning to end can be read equally in cither of two 
senses. In the preface to the collected edition, however, as Miss 
Kenton has pointed out, James does seem to want to put him- 
self on record. He asserts here that The Turn of the Screu/ is "a 

The Question of Henry James 

fairy-tale pure and simple" — but adds that the apparitions are 
of the order of those involved in witchcraft cases rather than 
of those in cases of psychic research. And he goes on to tell of 
his reply to one of his readers, who had complained that he had 
not characterized the governess sufficiently. At this criticism, he 
says, "One's artistic, one's ironic heart shook for the instant 
almost to breaking"; and he answered: "It was f deja tres-joli' 
. . . please believe, the general proposition of our young 
woman's keeping crystalline her record of so many intense 
anomalies and obscurities — by which I don't of course mean her 
explanation of them, a different matter. . . . She has 'author- 
ity,' which is a good deal to have given her. . . ." The italics 
above are mine: these words seem impossible to explain except 
on the hypothesis of hallucination. And note, too, in the col- 
lected edition that James has not included The Turn of the 
Screw in the volume with his other ghost stories but in a volume 
of stories of another kind, between The Aspem Papers and The 
Liar — this last the story of a pathological liar, whose wife pro- 
tects his lies against the world, acting with very much the same 
sort of deceptive "authority" as the governess in The Turn of 
the Screiv. 

When we look back in the light of these hints, we become 
convinced that the whole story has been primarily intended as 
a characterization of the governess: her visions and the way she 
behaves about them, as soon as we look at them from the obverse 
side, present a solid and unmistakable picture of the poor coun- 
try parson's daughter, with her English middle-class class con- 
sciousness, her inability to admit to herself her sexual impulses 
and the relentless English "authority" which enables her to put 
over on inferiors even purposes which are totally deluded and 
not at all to the other people's best interests. Add to this the 
peculiar psychology of governesses, who, by reason of their 
isolated position between the family and the servants, are likely 
to become ingrown and morbid. The writer knows of an actual 
case of a governess who used to frighten the servants by open- 
ing doors and smashing mirrors and who tortured the parents 
by mythical stories of kidnapers. The poltergeist, once a figure 
of demonology, is now a recognized neurotic type. 


Edmund Wilson 

When we examine The Turn of the Screw in this light, we 
understand for the first time its significance in connection with 
Henry James's other fiction — (the story, on any other hypothe- 
sis, would be, so far as I remember, the only thing James ever 
wrote which did not have some more or less serious point). We 
see now that it is simply a variation on one of James's familiar 
themes: the frustrated Anglo-Saxon spinster; and we remember 
that he has presented other cases of women who deceive them- 
selves and others about the sources and character of their emo- 
tions. The most obvious example is that remarkable and too- 
little-read novel, The Bostonians, The subject of The Bos- 
ton tans is the struggle for the attractive daughter of a poor 
evangelist between a young man from the South who wants to 
marry her and a well-to-do Boston lady with a Lesbian passion 
for her. The strong-minded and strong-willed spinster is herself 
apparently quite in the dark as to the real reason for her interest 
in the girl; she is convinced that her desire to dominate her, to 
make her live with her, to teach her to make speeches on 
women's rights, to prevent the eligible young Southerner from 
marrying her, is all ardor for the feminist cause. But James does 
not leave the reader in doubt — and he presents Olive Chancellor 
in a setting of other self-deluded New England idealists. 

There is a theme of the same kind in the short story called 
The Marriages, which amused Robert Louis Stevenson so hugely. 
But here the treatment is comic. A young English girl, described 
by one of the characters as of the unmarriageable type, much 
attached to an attractive father and obsessed by the memory of 
a dead mother, breaks up her father's projected second marriage. 
She goes to his fiancee and tells her that her father is an impos- 
sible character who had made her late mother miserable. When 
her brother calls her a raving maniac, she remains serene in the 
conviction that, by ruining the happiness of her father, she has 
been loyal to her duty to her mother. 

James's world is full of these women. They are not always 
emotionally perverted. Sometimes they are emotionally apa- 
thetic — like the amusing Francie Dosson of The Reverberator, 
who, though men are always falling madly in love with her, 
seems never really to understand what courtship and marriage 


The Question of Henry James 

mean and is apparently quite content to go on all her life 
eating m-arrons glaces with her father and sister in their suite 
in a Paris hotel. Sometimes they are emotionally starved — like 
the pathetic Milly Theale of The Wings of the Dove, who wastes 
away in Venice and whose doctor recommends a lover. 


James's men are not precisely neurotic; but they are the mas- 
culine counterparts of his women. They have a way of missing 
out on emotional experience, either through timidity or caution 
or through heroic renunciation. 

The extreme and fantastic example is the hero of The Beast 
in the Jungle, who is finally crushed by the realization that his 
fate is to be the man in the whole world to whom nothing at all 
is to happen. Some of these characters are presented ironically: 
Mr. Acton of The Europeans, so smug and secure in his neat 
little house, deciding not to marry the baroness who has- proved 
such an upsetting element in the community, is a perfect comic 
portrait of a certain kind of careful Bostonian. Others are made 
sympathetic: the starved and weary Lambert Strether of The 
Ambassadors, who comes to Paris too late in life. 

Sometimes, however, the effect is ambiguous. Though the 
element of irony in Henry James is often underestimated by 
his readers, there are stories which leave us in doubt as to 
whether or not the author knew how his heroes would strike his 
readers. Is the fishy Bernard Longueville of the early novel Con- 
fidence really intended for a sensitive and interesting young 
man or is he a prig in the manner of Jane Austen? And some 
of James's later heroes are just as unsympathetic. The very late 
short story Flicker bridge, in which a young American painter 
decides not to marry a young newspaper woman (the men are 
always deciding not to marry- the women In Henry James) 
because he is afraid she will spoil by publicizing it a delightful 
old English house, the property of her own family, in which 
he has greatly enjoyed living without her, affects us in the same 
unpleasant way. 

But Flickcrbridge seems merely a miscue: evidently James in- 


Edmund Wilson 

tends it to be taken seriously. How is The Sacred Fount to be 
taken? This short novel, surely one of the curiosities of litera- 
ture, which inspired the earliest parody — by Owen Seaman — I 
ever remember to have seen of James and which apparently 
marked his passing over some borderline into a region where he 
was to become for the public unassimilably exasperating and 
ridiculous, was written not long after The Turn of the Scrciv 
and is a sort of companion piece to it. There is the same setting 
of an English country house, the same passages of a sad and 
strange beauty, the same furtive and disturbing goings on in an 
atmosphere of clarity and brightness, the same dubious central 
figure, the same almost inscrutable ambiguity. As in the case of 
The Turn of the Screw, the fundamental question presents itself 
and never seems to get definitely answered: what is the reader to 
think of the protagonist? — who is here a man instead of a 

It would be tedious to analyze The Sacred Fount as I have 
done with The Turn of the Scrcnu — and it would be a somewhat 
more difficult undertaking. The Sacred Fount is mystifying, 
even maddening. But I believe that if anyone really got to the 
bottom of it, he would throw a good deal of light on Henry 
James. Rebecca West has given a burlesque account of this novel 
as the story of how "a week-end visitor spends more intellectual 
force than Kant can have used on The Critique of Pure Reason 
in an unsuccessful attempt to discover whether there exists be- 
tween certain of his fellow-guests a relationship not more inter- 
esting among these vacuous people than it is among sparrows." 
A gentleman, who tells the story, goes to a week-end party in 
the country; there he observes that certain of his friends appear 
to have taken a new lease on life whereas others seem to have 
been depleted. He evolves a theory about them: the theory is 
that the married couples have been forming new combinations 
and that the younger individuals have been feeding the older 
individuals from the sacred fount of their youth at the price 
of getting used up themselves. 

This theory seems obviously academic: older people feed 
younger people with their vitality quite as often as younger 


The Question of Henry James 

people feed older ones — and does James really mean us to ac- 
cept it? Are not the speculations of the narrator intended to 
characterize the narrator as the apparitions characterize the gov- 
erness? As this detached and rather eerie individual proceeds 
to spy on and cross-examine his friends in order to find out 
whether the facts fit his theory, we decide, as we do in The 
\ Turn of the Screw, that there are two separate things to be kept 
\ straight: a false hypothesis which the narrator is putting for- 
\ward and a reality which we are supposed to guess from what 
^he tells us about what actually happens. We remember the nar- 
rator of The As pern Papers, another inquisitive and annoying 
fellow, who is finally foiled and put to rout by the old lady 
whose private papers he is trying to get hold of. In the case of 
The Aspem Papers, there is no uncertainty about James's atti- 
tude toward the narrator: James lets us know that the papers 
were none of the journalist's business and that the rebuff 
served him right. And the amateur detective of The Sacred 
Fount is foiled and rebuffed in precisely the same manner by 
one of. his recalcitrant victims. "My poor dear, you are crazy, 
and I bid you good-night!" she says to him at the end of the 
story. "Such a last word," the narrator remarks, "the word that 
put me altogether nowhere — was too inacceptable not to pre- 
scribe afresh that prompt test of escape to other air for which 
. I had earlier in the evening seen so much reason. I should cer- 
tainly never again, on the spot, quite hang together, even 
though it wasn't really that I hadn't three times her method. 
What I too fatally lacked was her tone." But why did he lack 
her tone? — why would he never again hang together? What 
are we supposed to conclude about his whole exploit? 

Mr. Wilson Follett, the only writer on James who has given 
The Sacred Fount special attention (in "Henry James's Portrait 
of Henry James," New York Times Book Kcvicw, August 23, 
1936), believes that the book is a parable — even a conscious 
parody— of James's own role as an artist. The narrator may or 
may not have been right as to the actual facts of the case. The 
point is that, in elaborating his theory, he has constructed a 
work of art, and that it is a mistake to make the validity of 
works of art depend on a correspondence with actuality. Art 


Edmund Wilson 

has only its own kind of validity, and a collision with actuality 
would destroy it and put an end to the activities of the artist. 

Certainly James has put himself into The Sacred Fount, and 
certainly he has intended some sort of fable about the imagina- 
tive mind and the material with which it works. But it seems 
to me that Mr. Follett's theory assumes on James's part a con- 
ception of artistic truth which would hardly be worthy of him. 
After all, the novelist must know what people are actually up 
to, however much he may rearrange actuality; and it is not clear 
in The Sacred Fount whether the narrator really knew what he 
was talking about. If The Sacred Fount is a parody, what is 
the point of the parody? Why should James have represented 
the artist as defeated by the breaking in of life? 

The truth is, I believe, that Henry James was not clear about 
the book in his own mind. Already, with The Turn of the 
Screw, he has carried his ambiguous procedure to a point where 
it seems almost as if he did not want the reader to get through 
to the hidden meaning. See his curious replies in his letters to 
correspondents who write him about the story: to what seem 
to have been leading questions, he seems to have given evasive 
answers, dismissing the tale as a mere "pot-boiler," a mere (f )cu 
d'esprit" Olive Chancellor in The Bostouiaus, though tragic 
perhaps, is horrid, and she is vanquished by Basil Ransom. But 
he was willing to leave his readers in doubt as to whether the 
governess was horrid or nice. And now in The Sacred Fount, we 
do not know whether the week-end guest, though he was un- 
questionably obnoxious to the other guests, is intended to be 
taken as one of the elite, a fastidious, highly civilized sensibility, 
or merely as a little bit cracked and a bore. The man who 
wanted to get the Aspern papers was fanatically inquisitive and 
a nuisance; but many of James's inquisitive observers who never 
take part in the action arc presented as most superior people. 
James confessed to being this sort of person himself. Ambiguity 
was certainly growing on James. It was to pass all bounds in 
those scenes in his later novels (of which the talks in The Turn 
of the Screiu between the housekeeper and the governess are 
only comparatively mild examples) in which the characters are 
able to carry on long conversations with each consistently mis- 


The Question of Henry James 

taking the other's meaning and neither ever yielding to the im- 
pulse to say any of the obvious things which would clear the 
situation up. 

What if the hidden theme of The Sacred fount is simply sex 
again? What if the real sacred fount, from which the people 
observed by the narrator have been drawing their new vitality, 
is love instead of youth? They have something which he has not 
had, know something which he does not know; and, lacking the 
clue of love, he can only pedantically misunderstand them. And 
they, since they have the forces of life on their side, arc able to 
frighten him away. 

This theory may be dubious, also; but there is certainly in- 
volved in The Sacred Fount the conception of a man shut out 
from love and doomed to barren speculation on human rela- 
tions, who will be shocked by direct contact with reality. 

Hitherto, it has usually been quite plain what James wanted 
us to think of his characters; but now there appears in his work 
a morbid element which is not always handled objectively but 
has invaded the storyteller himself. He seems to be dramatizing 
the frustrations of his own life without quite being willing to 
confess it, without always fully admitting it to himself. 

But before we pursue this line of inquiry, let us look at him 
in a different connection. 


Who are these characters of Henry James's about whom we 
come to be less and less certain as to precisely what he means 
us to think? 

The type is the cultivated American bourgeois, like Henry 
James himself, who lives on an income derived from some form 
(usually left extremely vague) of American business activity 
but who has taken no part in the achievements which made the 
income possible. These men turn their backs on business; they 
attempt to enrich their experience through the society and art 
of Europe. But they bring to it the bourgeois qualities of timid- 
ity, prudence, primness, the habits of mind of a narrow moral- 
ity which, even when they wish to be cpen-minded, cause them 


Edmund Wilson 

to be easily shocked. They wince alike at the brutalities of the 
aristocracy and at the vulgarities of the working class; they 
shrink most of all from the "commonness" of the less cultivated 
bourgeoisie, who, having acquired their incomes more recently, 
are not so far advanced in self-improvement. The women have 
the corresponding qualities: they arc innocent, conventional, 
and rather cold — sometimes they suffer from Freudian com- 
plexes or a kind of arrested development, sometimes they are 
neglected or cruelly cheated by the men to whom they have 
given their hearts. And even when James's heroes and heroines 
are English, they assimilate themselves to these types. 

It is illuminating in this connection to compare James's atti- 
tude to Flaubert's. The hero of Uliducat'ion scitthncntale is a 
perfect FIcnry James character: he is sensitive, cautious, afraid of 
life, he lives on a little income and considers himself superior to 
the common run. But Flaubert's attitude toward Frederic Mo- 
reau is devastatingly ironic. Frederic has his aspects of pathos, 
his occasional flashes of spirit: but Flaubert is quite emphatic 
in his final judgment of Frederic. Fie considers Frederic a worm. 

Now James has his own kind of irony, but it is not Flaubert's 
kind. Frederic Moreau is really the hero of most of James's 
novels, and you can see very plainly how James's estimate of 
him usually differs from Flaubert's if you compare certain kinds 
of scenes which tend to recur in Henry James with scenes in 
UEducation scnttmentale from which James has evidently imi- 
tated them: those situations of a sensitive young man immersed 
in some kind of gathering or having a succession of meetings 
with various characters without being able in his innocence pre- 
cisely to figure out what they are up to. The reader is able to 
guess that they arc more worldly and unscrupulous persons than 
the hero and that they are talking over his head, acting behind 
his back. You have this pattern, as I say, both in Flaubert and 
in James; but the difference is that, whereas in James the young 
man is made wondering and wistful and is likely to turn out a 
pitiful victim, in Flaubert he is made to look like a fool and is 
as ready to double-cross these other people who seem to him so 
inferior to himself as they are to double-cross him. 

In this difference between Flaubert's attitude toward Frederic 


The Question of Henry James 

and James's attitude toward, say, Hyacinth Robinson of The 
'Princess Casamassima is to be discovered, I believe, the real rea- 
son for James's peculiar resentment of Flaubert. Flaubert in- 
terested James deeply: they had in common that they were both 
trying to give dignity to the novel of modern life by bringing 
it to intense aesthetic form. And James returned to Flaubert 
again and again, wrote three essays on him at different periods. 
But though he obviously cannot help admiring Flaubert, he 
usually manages in the long run to belittle him — and is espe- 
cially invidious on the subject of UEducation sentimentale. His 
great complaint is that Flaubert's characters are so ignoble that 
they do not deserve to have so much art expended on them and 
that there must have been something basically wrong with Flau- 
bert ever to have supposed that they did. James never seems to 
understand that Flaubert intends all his characters to be "mid- 
dling" and that the greatness of his work arises from the fact 
that it constitutes a criticism of something bigger than they are. 
James praises the portrait of Madame Arnoux: Thank God, at 
least, he exclaims, that here Flaubert was able to muster the 
good taste to deal delicately with a pure and fine-grained 
woman! He seems completely unaware that Madame Arnoux is 
treated as ironically as any of the other characters — that the 
virtuous bourgeois wife with her inhibitions and superstitions 
is pathetic only as a part of the bigger thing of which Flaubert 
is showing the failure. Henry James mistakes Madame Arnoux 
for a "refined portrait of an American lady and he is worried 
because Frederic isn't a quietly vibrating young American. Yet 
at the same time he must have his uneasy suspicion that young 
Americans of that kind are being made fun of. I believe that 
James's antagonism to Flaubert may be primarily due to the fact 
that Flaubert's criticism of the pusillanimity of the bourgeois 
has really touched James himself. James's later heroes are always 
regretting having lived and loved too meagerly; and James dis- 
tills from these sensitive nonparticipants all the sad, self-effacing 
nobility, all the fine and thin beauty, he can get out of them. 
Whereas Flaubert extracts something quite different and bitter: 
when Frederic recalls in middle age his first clumsy and fright- 


Edmund Wilson 

ened visit to a brothel as the best that life has had to offer him, 
it is a damnation of a whole society. 

But there was another kind of modern society which Flau- 
bert did not know and which Henry James did know. Henry 
James was that new anomalous thing, an American. He is an 
American who has spent much of his childhood and youth in 
Europe, and he is imbued to a considerable extent with the 
European point of view. The monuments of feudal and ancient 
Europe, the duchesses and princesses and princes who seem to 
carry on the feudal tradition, are still capable of making modern 
life look to him dull, undistinguished, and tame. But the past 
for him does not completely dwarf the present, as the vigil of 
Saint Anthony and the impacts of pagan armies dwarf Flau- 
bert's Frederic Moreau. The American in Henry James insist- 
ently asserts himself against Europe. After all, Frederic Moreau 
and Madame Arnoux are the best people of Albany and Bos- 
ton! — but they are not characters in Flaubert there. There 
their scruples and their renunciations possess a real value — for 
Frederic Moreau at home possesses a real integrity; and when 
they visit Europe, they judge the whole thing in a new way. 
FIcnry James speaks somewhere of his indignation at an English- 
woman's saying to him in connection with something: "That is 
true of the aristocracy, but in one's own class it is quite dif- 
ferent." As an American, it had never occurred to him that he 
could be described as a middle-class person. When Edith Whar- 
ton accused him in his later years of no longer appreciating 
Flaubert and demanded of him why Emma Bovary was not as 
good a subject for a novel as Anna Karenina, he replied: "Ah, 
but one paints the fierce passions of a luxurious aristocracy; 
the other deals with the petty miseries of a little bourgeoise in a 
provincial town!" But if Emma Bovary is small potatoes, what 
about Daisy Miller? Why, Daisy Miller is an American girl! 
Emma Bovary has her debts and adulteries, but she is otherwise 
a conventional person, she remains in her place in the social 
scheme, even when she dreams of rising out of it: when she goes 
to visit the chateau, the sugar seems to her whiter and finer than 
elsewhere. Whereas Daisy Miller represents something which has 
walked quite out of the frame of Europe. When it comes back 


The Question o£ Henry James 

to Europe again, it disregards the social system. Europe is too 
much for Daisy Miller: she catches cold in the Coliseum, where 
according to European conventions she oughtn't to have been 
at that hour. But the great popularity of her story was certainly 
due to her creator's having somehow conveyed the impression 
that her spirit went marching on. 

In Henry James's mind, there disputed all his life the Euro- 
pean and the American points of view; and their debate, I be- 
lieve, is closely connected with his inability sometimes to be clear 
as to what he thinks of a certain sort of person. It is quite mis- 
taken to talk as if James had uprooted himself from America 
in order to live in England. He had traveled so much from his 
earliest years that he never had any real roots anywhere. His 
father had himself been a wandering intellectual, oscillating 
back and forth between the United States and Europe. And 
even in America, the Jameses oscillated back and forth between 
Boston and New York. They were not New Englandcrs but 
New Yorkers, and they had none of the tight local ties of New 
Englandcrs — they always came to Boston from a larger outside 
world and their attitude toward it was critical and objective. 

To James's critical attitude toward Boston was probably 
partly due the failure in America of The Bostonians; and to this 
failure is possibly due his discouragement with his original am- 
bition of becoming the American Balzac. At any rate, it marks 
the moment of his taking up his residence in England and of his 
turning. from the Americans to the English. 

He was in London, and he found he liked living in London 
better than living in Boston or New York. His parents in the 
States had just died, and his sister came over to join him. 


And this brings us to what seems to have been the principal 
crisis in Henry James's life and work. We know so little about 
his personal life that it is impossible to give any account of it 
save as it reflects itself in his writings. 

Up to the period of his playwriting his fiction has been pretty 
plain sailing. He has aimed to be a social historian, and, in a 


Edmund Wilson 

rather limited field, he has succeeded. His three long novels of 
the later eighties — The Bostonians, The Princess Casamassima, 
and The Tragic Muse — are, indeed, as social history, his most 
ambitious undertakings and, up to a point, his most brilliant. 
The first hundred pages of The Bostoniaus, with the arrival of 
the Mississippian in Boston and the crowded picture of the meet- 
ing of reformers is, in its way, one of the most masterly things 
that Henry James ever did. The Princess Casamassima, with 
its prison and its revolutionary exiles in London, deals with 
issues and social contrasts of a kind that James had never before 
attempted. The familiar criticism of Henry James — the criticism 
made by H. G. Wells — does not, in fact, hold true of these 
books. Here his people do have larger interests and functions 
aside from their personal relations: they have professions, mis- 
sions, practical aims; and they also engage in more drastic action 
than in his novels of any other period. Basil Ransom pursues 
Vercna Tarrant and rescues her from the terrible Olive Chancel- 
lor; Hyacinth Robinson pledges himself to carry out a political 
assassination, then kills himself instead; Miriam Rooth makes 
her career as a great actress. Here there is a genuine will to do 
rather than a mere disposition to observe. Up to a point these 
three books are quite triumphant. 

But there is a point — usually about halfway through — at 
which every one of these novels begins strangely to run into the 
sands; the excitement seems to lapse at the same time that the 
color fades from the picture; and the ends are never up to the 
beginnings. This is most obvious, and even startling, in The 
Tragic Muse, the first volume of which, when we read it, makes 
us think that it must be James's best novel, so solid and alive 
docs it seem. There are in it a number of things v/hich he has 
never given us before: a wonderful portrait of a retired parlia- 
mentarian with an implied criticism of British Liberal politics, 
a real scene — what one might have thought he could never do — 
between a man and a woman (Nick Dormer and Julia Dallow) 
instead of the polite conversations to which he has accustomed 
us; and Miriam Rooth, the Muse herself, comes nearer to carry- 
ing Henry James out of the enclosure of Puritan scruples and 
prim prejudices onto the larger stage of human creative effort 


The Question of Henry James 

than any other character he has drawn. Here at last we seem to 
find ourselves with real people, who have the same appetites 
and ambitions as other people — in comparison, the characters of 
his earlier works are real only in a certain convention. Then 
suddenly the story stops short: after the arrival of Miriam in 
London, The Tragic Muse is an almost total blank. Of the two 
young men who have been preoccupied with Miriam, one re- 
nounces her because she will not leave the stage and the other 
apparently doesn't fall in love with her. Miriam, to be sure, 
makes a great success as an actress, but we are never taken into 
her life, we know nothing at first hand about her emotions. And 
with nothing but these negative decisions in sight, the author 
himself seems to lose interest. 

The first half of The Tragic Muse is the high point of the first 
part of James's career, after which something snaps. He an- 
nounces that he will write no more long novels, but only fiction 
of shorter length. He may have been aware that a long novel 
demands a mounting up to a point of intensity and revelation of 
a kind which he was unable to give it, whereas a short story 
need not go so deep. At any rate, he set himself to write plays, 
and for five years he produced little else. 

Why did he do this? He complained at this time that he had 
difficulty in selling his fiction, and he confessed that his plays 
were written in the hope of a popular success, that they were 
intended merely to entertain and were not to be taken too 
seriously. Yet this is surely an inadequate explanation of the 
phenomenon of a novelist of the first order giving up the art in 
which he has perfected himself to write plays which do not even 
aim to be serious. 

That there was something incomplete and unexplained about 
James's emotional life seems to appear unmistakably from his 
novels. I believe it may be said that up to this point there are 
no consummated love affairs in his fiction — that is, none among 
the principal actors and during the action of the story; and this 
fact must certainly have contributed to his increasing loss of 
hold on his readers. It is not merelv that he gave in The Bos- 
tonians an unpleasant picture of Boston, and in The Tragic 
Muse an equally unpleasant picture of the English; it is not 


Edmund Wilson 

merely that The Princess Casamassima treated a social-revolu- 
tionary subject from a point of view which gave neither side 
best. It was not merely that he was thus at this period rather 
lost between America and England. It was also that you cannot 
long hold an audience with stories about men wooing women 
in which the parties either never get together or are never seen 
as really functioning as lovers. And you will particularly dis- 
courage your readers with a story about two men and a girl in 
which neither man ever gets her and in which she marries a 
third person, totally uninteresting. There is, as I have said, in 
The Tragic Musc y a much more convincing man-and-woman 
relationship. Julia Dallow is really female and she really behaves 
like a woman with Nick Dormer; but here her political ambi- 
tions get between Nick and her, so that this, too, never comes 
to anything: here the man, again, must renounce. (In James's 
later novels, these healthily female women are always invested 
with a value frankly sinister and usually animated by evil de- 
signs: Kate Croy and Charlotte Stant.) Years later. Henry 
James explained in his preface to The Tragic Muse tha: he had 
been prevented from allowing Miriam Rooth to have a genuine 
love affair with anybody by the prudery of the American maga- 
zines; and certainly the skittishness of a reading public which 
was scandalized by ]ude the Obscure is not to be underesti- 
mated. But, after all, Hardy and Meredith did write about Jude 
and Lord Ormont and his Aminta and let the public howl; and 
it would certainly have enhanced rather than diminished Henry 
James's reputation — as to which his ambitions seem by no means 
to have been modest — if he had done the same thing himself. 
^Problems of passion in conflict with convention and law were 
coming to be subjects of burning interest; but James could not 
deal with that kind of passion and was much too honest to try to 
fake it. 

One feels about the episode of his playwriting that it was an 
effort to put himself over, an effort to make himself felt, as he 
had never succeeded in doing before. His brother William James 
wrote home in the summer of 1S89, at the beginning of Henry's 
playwriting period, that Henry, beneath the "rich sea-weeds and 
rigid barnacles and things" of "strange heavy alien manners and 


The Question of Henry James 

customs" with which he had covered himself like a "marine 
crustacean/' remained the "same dear old, good, innocent and 
at bottom very powcrlcss-fceling Harry." He had injured his 
back in an accident in his boyhood, and it was still necessary for 
him to lie down for regular rests. And it is as if he were putting 
his back into playwriting as he had never been able to put it into 
a passion. His heroine Miriam Rooth in the novel has turned 
away from the Philistine English world, which rejects her, and 
taken into the theater the will of the artist, which will enable 
her to conquer that world; and her creator is now to imitate her. 

But his plays were not produced or did not go. At the first 
night of Guy Domville, he ran foul of a hissing and booing 
British audience (the play contained another of his confounded 
renunciations) ; and these five years put him under a severe 
strain. When he recovers from his disappointment, he is seen 
to have passed through a kind of crisis. 

Now he enters upon a new phase, of which the most obvious 
feature is a subsidence back into himself. And now sex does 
appear in his work — in a queer and left-handed way. We have 
The Turn of the Screiu and The Sacred Fount — and What 
Maisie Knew and /;/ the Cage. There are plenty of love affairs 
now and plenty of irregular relations, but there are always bar- 
riers between them and us; they are the chief object of interest, 
but they are seen from a distance. 

For the Jamesian central observer, through whose intelligence 
the story is usually relayed to us, has undergone a strange dimi- 
nution. This observer is no longer a complete and interesting 
person more or less actively involved in the events, but a small 
child, a telegraph operator who lives vicariously through the 
senders of telegrams, a week-end guest who seems not to exist in 
any other capacity except that of a week-end guest and who 
lives vicariously through his fellow visitors. The people who 
surround this observer tend to take on the diabolic value of the 
specters of The Turn of the Screw, and this diabolic value is 
almost invariably connected with their concealed and only 
guessed at sexual relations. The innocent Nanda Brookenham of 
The Awkward Age, a work of the same period and group, has 
a whole host of creepy creatures around her. James is ceasing to 


Edmund Wilson 

sustain the objectivity which has kept the outlines of his stories 
pretty definite up through his middle novels: he has relapsed 
into a dreamy, inner world, where values are often uncertain 
and where it is not even possible for him any longer to judge 
the effect of his stories on his audience; — that audience which, 
as a matter of fact, has almost ceased to exist. One is dismayed 
in reading his comments on The Awkward Age, which he seems 
to have considered highly successful, to realize that he is un- 
aware of the elements in the book which, in spite of the techni- 
cal virtuosity displayed in it, make it unpleasant and irritating. 
The central figure of The Sacred Fount may perhaps have been 
presented ironically; but James could never have known how 
we should feel about the gibbering, disemboweled crew who 
hover about one another with sordid, shadowy designs in The 
Awkward A+ge. 

This is accompanied by a kind of expansion of the gp.s of the 
psychological atmosphere — an atmosphere which has now a spe- 
cial odor. With What Mahie Knew, as F. M. Ford says, the style 
first becomes a little gamcy; and then, dropping off its old for- 
mality and what sometimes amounted to a mechanical hardness, 
it becomes progressively, in the conventional sense, more poetic. 

With all this, his experience of playwriting has done him no 
good m his fiction. He had sec himself to emulate the most 
stultifying models of the mechanically well-made play. He 
turned certain of these pieces into novels — Covering End and 
The Other House — and dreadful novels they made; and in 
The Awkward Age and other works of this period, an artificial 
dramatic technique persists. It is one of the elements that make 
.some of them so exasperating. They combine a lifeless trickery 
of logic with the ambiguous subjectivity of a nightmare. 

In this period certainly originates that tendency on James's 
part to exploit the mysteries of technique for the purpose of di- 
verting attention from his shortcomings which has imposed on 
some of his critics and which must of course have imposed on 
himself. One can see from his comments of various periods how 
a method like that of Tolstoy in War and Peace became more 
and more distasteful to him. Tolstoy, he insisted, was all over 
the shop, entering the minds of far too many of his characters 


The Question of Henry James 

and failing to exercise the principle of selection. He speaks in 
the preface to The Tragic Mjtse of his own difficulty in handling 
a complex subject — though here it is a question of going into 
the minds of only two of the characters. But, obviously, the 
question of whether the novelist enters into a variety of points 
of view has nothing to do with his technical proficiency or even 
with his effect of concentration. One trouble with The Tragic 
Muse is that James does not show us the inside of Miriam Rooth; 
and if he fails to do so, it is because, here as elsewhere, he does 
not know, as Tolstoy did, what the insides cf such people are 
like. So, in The Wings of the Dove, the "riic«:?er\gering," as the 
drama courses say, of Kate Croy's final tccne with Merton 
Dcnsher is evidently due to James's increusib<> incapacity for 
dealing directly with scenes of emotion rather than to the eso- 
teric motives he alleges. And so his curious, constant complaint 
that he is unable to do certain things because then, is no longer 
space within the prescribed limits of the story is certainly only 
another hollow excuse: he never seems to be aware of the 
amount of space he is wasting through the roundabout locutions 
or quite gratuitous verbiage with which he habitually pads out 
his sentences — and which is itself a form of staving off his main 
problems. His censure of Tolstoy for his failure to select is a de- 
fensive reflex action on Henry James's part for his own failure 
to fill in his picture. 


What happens after this, however, is interesting. In The Ant' 
bassadors, The Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl the 
psychological atmosphere thickens, fills up the stories with the 
Jamesian gas instead of with detail and background. The char- 
acters (though usually apprehended as convincing personal 
entities) are seen dimly through a phantasmagoria of dreamlike 
metaphors and similes, which seem sometimes, as Rebecca West 
has said, more vivid and solid than the settings. 

But a positive element reappears. The novels of The Awkward 
Age period were written not merely from James's international 
limbo between the United States and Europe but under the op- 
pression of defeat and self-doubt. But in these queer and ncu- 


Edmund Wilson 

rotic stones — (some of them, of course — The Turn of the 
Screw and What Maisie Knew — among James's masterpieces) — 
moral values begin to assert themselves again. They sprout first 
in the infantile form of Maisie and Nanda Brookenham, whose 
innocence is the test of the other characters. Then in the longer 
novels that follow, in figures of a more mature innocence, 
they completely take the field; and these figures are now invari- 
ably Americans, We are back to the pattern of his earlier 
novels, where the typical conflict was between glamorous people 
who were also worldly and likely to be wicked, and people of 
superior scruples who were likely to be more or less homely, 
and where the former usually represented Europe and the latter 
the United States. In these novels, it was sometimes the Ameri- f 
cans — as in The Portrait of a Lady — who were left with the 
moral advantage; sometimes — as in The Europeans — the Euro- 
peans. But in these late novels it is always the Americans whoi 
have the better of it from the moral point of view — scoring 
heavily off a fascinating Italian prince, an equally fascinating 
French lady and a formidable group of middle-class English 
people. Yes: there ti/as a beauty and there was also a power in 
the goodness of these naive and ooen people, which had not 
existed for Flaubert and his group. It is something different and 
new which docs not fit into the formulas of Europe. What if 
Lambert Strether had missed in Woollctt, Massachusetts, many 
things that he would have enjoyed in Paris: he had brought to 
Paris something it did not have. And the burden of the book, 
William Wet more Story and His Friends, which was also written 
during this time — rather different from that of his early book on 
Hawthorne — is that American artists might much better stay 
at home. 

And now — in 1904 — Henry James revisits America, writes 
The American Scene, returns to it in a novel, The Ivory Tower, 
left unfinished at his death. 

In his other unfinished novel, the fantasia called The Sense of 
the Past, he makes a young contemporary American go back 
into eighteenth-century England. Here the Jamcsian ambiguity 
serves an admirable artistic purpose. Is it the English of the past 
who are the ghosts or is it the American himself who is a dream? 


The Question of Henry James 

— will the moment come when they will vanish or will he him- 
self cease to exist? And, as before, there is a question of James's 
own asking at the bottom of the ambiguity: Which is real — 
America or Europe? It was, however, in the novel, the American 
who was to remain real. (It is curious to compare The Sense 
of the Fast with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, 
with which it really has a good deal in common.) 

Yes: in spite of the popular assumption founded on his ex- 
patriation, it is America which gets the better of it in Henry 
James. His warmest tributes to American genius come out of 
these later years. Though he could not, in Notes of a Son and 
Brother, resist the impulse to remove references to Lincoln 
as "old Abe" from William James's early letters of the wartime, 
it contains pages on Lincoln's death of a touching appreciation 
and pride. "It was vain to say," he writes of Andrew Johnson, 
of whom he says that the American people felt him unworthy 
to represent them, "that we had deliberately invoked the 'com- 
mon' in authority and must drink the wine we had drawn. No 
countenance, no salience of aspect nor composed symbol, could 
superficially have referred itself less than Lincoln's mold-smash- 
ing mask to any mere matter-of-course type of propriety; but 
his admirable unrelated head had itself revealed a type — as if by 
the very fact that what made in it for roughness of kind 
looked out only less than what made in it for splendid final 
stamp; in other words for commanding Style." And of the day 
when the news reached Boston: "I was fairly to go in shame of 
its being my birthday. These would have been the hours of the 
streets if none others had been — -when the huge general gasp 
filled them like a great earth-shudder and people's eyes met 
people's eyes without the vulgarity of speech. Even this was, all 
so strangely, part of the lift and the swell, as tragedy has but to 
be of a pure enough strain and a high enough connection to sow 
with its dark hand the seed of greater life. The collective sense 
of what had occurred was of a sadness too noble not somehow to 
inspire, and it was truly in the air that, whatever we had as a 
nation produced or failed to produce, we could at least gather 
round this perfection of .classic woe." In The American Scene, 
he writes of Concord: "We may smile a little as we 'drag in' 


Edmund Wilson 

Weimar, but I confess myself, for my part, much more satisfied 
than not by our happy equivalent, 'in American money/ for 
Goethe and Schiller. The money is a potful in the second case as 
in the first, and if Goethe, in the one, represents the gold and 
Schiller the silver, I find (and quite putting aside any bimetallic 
prejudice) the same good relation in the other between Emerson 
and Thorcau. I open Emerson for the same benefit for which I 
open Goethe, the sense of moving in large intellectual space, and 
that of the gush, here and there, out of the rock, of the crystal- 
line cupful, in wisdom and poetry, in Wahrhcit and Dichtung; 
and whatever I open Thoreau for (I needn't take space here for 
the good reasons) I open him oftener than I open Schiller." 
Edith Wharton says that he used to read Walt Whitman 
aloud "in a mood of subdued ecstasy" and with tremendous 
effect on his hearers. 

Henry James's career had been affected by the shift in the 
national point of view which occurred after the Civil War. It 
is being shown by Mr. Van Wyck Brooks in his cultural history 
of New England how the Bostonian of the first part of the 
century was inspired — as, in our time, the Russians have been — 
to present the world with a humanity, set free from the caste 
barriers and poverties of Europe, which should return to the 
mother country only to plunder her for elements of culture 
which might contribute to the movement at home; and how, 
with the triumph of the industrial system, the persons who were 
occupied with art and thought became gradually ashamed of the 
United States and tended to take refuge in Europe. Henry 
James belonged to this second phase, but he had a good deal of 
the idealism of the first one. It appears in the name of the hero 
of The American, Newman, and in his phrase about Lincoln's 
"mold-smashing mask"; and, after a period of partial abeyance, 
when he had been writing largely about Europeans, it cropped 
up again, as I have shown, and took the field. 

But Henry James is a reporter, not a prophet. With less po- 
litical philosophy even than Flaubert, he can only chronicle the 
world as it passes, and in his picture the elements arc mixed. In 
the Americans of Henry James's later novels — the Milly Thcalcs, 
the Lambert Strethers, the Maggie Ververs — he shows us all that 

The Question of Henry James 

was magnanimous, reviving, and human in the Americans at the 
beginning of the new century along with all that was frustrated, 
sterile, excessively refined, depressing — all that they had in com- 
mon with the Frederic Moreaus and with the daughters of poor 
English parsons. There they are with their ideals and their 
blights. Mllly Theale, for example — quite real at the core of the 
cloudy integument with which James has swathed her about — 
is one of the best portraits of a rich New Yorker in fiction. It is 
the great period of the heyday of Sargent; but compare these 
figures of Henry James's with Sargent's and see with what pro- 
founder insight as well as with what superior delicacy James has 
caught the rich Americans of this race. 


And between the first and the second blooming something 
tragic has happened to these Americans. What has become of 
Christopher Newman? He is Lambert Strether now: he has been 
worn down by the factories of Woollctt. And these Americans of 
the later novels — who still bring Europe the American sincerity 
— what has happened to them to make them so wan? Well, for 
one thing, they have become very rich, and being rich is a terrible 
burden: in the process of getting rich, they have starved them- 
selves spiritually at home; and now that they are trying to get 
something for their money, they find that they have put them- 
selves at the mercy of all the schemers and adventurers of Eu- 
rope. It seems to me foolish to reproach Henry James for having 
neglected the industrial background. Like sex, we never get very 
close to it, but its effects are a part of his picture. James's tone 
is more often old-maidish than his sense of reality is feeble; and 
the whole development of American society during his absence 
is implied in these later books. 

Now when he returns — late in the day though it is for him — • 
he reacts strongly and reports vividly what he finds. 

The returning New Yorker of The Jolly Comer encounters 
the apparition of himself as he would have been if he had stayed 
in America: "Rigid and conscious, spectral yet human, a man 
of his own substance and stature waited there to measure him- 


Edmund Wilson 

self with his power to dismay." At first the apparition covers 
its face with its hands; then it advances upon the returned na- 
tive "as for aggression, and he knew himself give ground. Then 
harder pressed still, sick with the force of his shock, and falling 
back as under the hot breath and sensed passion of a life larger 
than his own, a rage of personality before which his own col- 
lapsed, he felt the whole vision turn to darkness," and he fainted. 

But at contact with the harsh new America, the old Balzac in 
James revives. I do not know why more has not been made by 
James's critics — especially by the critics of the Left, who are so 
certain that there is nothing in him — of his unfinished novel, 
The Ivory Tower. The work of his all but final period has been 
"poetic" rather than "realistic"; but now he passes into still a 
further phase, in which the poetic treatment is applied to what 
is for James a new. kind of realism. The fiction of his latest 
period is preoccupied in a curious way with the ugly, the poor, 
and the old, even with — what is unprecedented for James — the 
grotesque. It is perhaps the reflection of his own old age, his own 
lack of worldly success, the strange creature that he himself has 
become. This new vein begins, I think, with The Papers, with 
its fantastically amusing picture of the sordid lives of journalists 
in London. Tordham Castle, in which he said he had attempted 
to do some justice to the parents of the Daisy Millers, whose 
children had left them behind, is an excursion into the America 
of Sinclair Lewis. The Bench of Desolation — one of the most 
beautifully written and wonderfully developed pieces in the 
whole range of Henry James's work, and, I believe, the last piece 
of fiction he published — is a sort of poem of loneliness and pov- 
erty among the nondescript small shopkeepers and former gov- 
ernesses of an English seaside resort. 

And now the revelation of Newport, as it presented itself in 
the nineteen hundreds — so different from the Newport which 
he had described years ago in An International Episode — stimu- 
lates him to something quite new: a kind of nightmare of the 
American new rich. Here his gusto for the varied forms of life, 
his interest in social phenomena for their own sake, seems sud- 
denly to wake up from its reveries. The actual appearances of 
things become suddenly vivid again. In the novels which pre- 


The Question of Henry James 

ceded The Ivory Tower, the carefully selected and charming 
old-world settings had been steadily fading out; but now, to our 
amazement, there starts into relief the America of the million- 
aires, at its crudest, corruptest, and phoniest: the immense sum- 
mer mansions full of equipment which no one ever seems to 
have selected or used, the old men of the Rockefeller-Frick gen- 
eration, landed, with no tastes and no interests, amidst an un- 
limited magnificence which dwarfs them, the silly or clumsy 
young people of the second generation with their off-color rela- 
tionships, their enormous, meaningless parties, their touching 
longings and resolute strivings for an elegance and cultivation 
they cannot manage. The apparition in The Jolly Corner came 
upon the Europeanized American "quite as one of those expand- 
ing fantastic images projected by the magic lantern of child- 
hood"; and in the same way, for the reader of James, with the 
opening of The Ivory Tower, there emerges the picture of old 
Abner Gaw sitting and rocking his foot and looking out on the 
sparkling Atlantic while he waits for his partner to die. 

The -Ivory Totver is immensely comic, deeply human, and 
brilliantly observed — and it is poetic in the highest sense, like 
all these later novels: in the sense that its characters and images, 
individualized though they are, shine out with the incandes- 
cence which shows them as symbols of phases through which the 
human soul has passed. 

The moral of the book — which seems quite plain from the 
scenario left by James — is also of particular interest. The ivory 
tower itself, a fine piece of Chinese carving, figures the spiritual 
isolation, the cultivation of sensations, and the literary activity 
which arc to be made possible for the young American, returned 
from Europe, who has inherited his uncle's fortune; but it con- 
tains, also, the fatal letter in which the vindictive Mr. Gaw has 
revealed all the swindles a;»d perfidies by which the fortune has 
been created. So that the young man (he has always had a little 
money) is to come finally to be glad enough to give up the ivory 
tower with the fortune. 

James dropped The Ivory Tower when the war broke out in 
1 9 14, because it seemed to him too remote from the present. 
The war seems to have presented itself to him as simply a strug- 


Edmund Wilson 

gle between, on the one hand, French and English civilization 
and, on the other, German barbarism. He had believed in, and 
had been writing rather vaguely about, the possible salutary 
efTect on human affairs of a sort of international elite such as he 
tended to depict in his novels; and now he spoke of the past as 
"the age of the mistake," the time when people had thought 
that things would be all right. He now became violently nation- 
alistic, or at least violently pro-Ally, and took out citizen's 
papers in England, because America had not yet gone into the 
war. It never seems to have occurred to him that in The Ivory 
Tower he had been much closer to contemporary realities than 
in becoming an English citizen, that the partnership of Better- 
man and Gaw was a European phenomenon, too — any more 
than it ever occurred to him that the class antagonisms of The 
Princess Casamassima — his response to the depression of the 
eighties — must inevitably appear again. But as Hyacinth Rob- 
inson died of the class struggle, so Henry James died of the war. 
Before he died, the English gave him the Order of Merit. But 
I do not think that anybody has yet done justice to the genius 
that, overriding personal deficiencies of a peculiarly disabling 
kind, finding its bearings in a social situation almost as bewil- 
dering as the astronomical one with which the mathematics of 
relativity deals, surviving the ridicule and indifference of the 
two peoples whose critic he had made himself, was able to re- 
create itself to the end and actually to break fresh ground at 

For Henry James is a great artist, in spite of everything. His 
deficiencies are obvious enough. He was certainly rather short 
on invention; and he tended to hold life at arm's length. Yet 
when a novelist with a real inventive gift — say Compton Mack- 
enzie — can invent till the cows come home without his inven- 
tions' making any lasting impression on us, the things that 
James does invent have so perfect an appropriateness and 
beauty, even floating though they sometimes are in rather a gray 
sea of abstract exposition, that they remain in our minds as 
luminous symbols; and the objects and beings at the end of 
James's arm, or rather, at the end of his antennae, are grasped 


The Question of Henry James 

with an astonishing firmness, gauged with a marvelous intelli- 
gence. His work is incomplete as his experience was; but it is 
in no respect second-rate, and he can be judged only in the com- 
pany of the greatest. My argument has not given me an occasion 
to call attention to the classical equanimity, the classical combi- 
nation of realism with harmony — I have tried to describe them 
in writing about Pushkin — which have been so rare in American 
and in English literature alike and of which James is one of the 
only examples. 



In the Country of the Blue • 

[ 1943 ] 

WE are now about to assay the deep bias, the controlling, 
characteristic tension in the fiction of Henry James as it 
erupts in those tales where the theme is that of the artist in con- 
flict with society. To erupt is to break out irresistibly from 
some deep compulsion, whether of disease or disorder, into a 
major reaction; and that is exactly what happens to James when 
in the first full maturity of his fifties he began to meditate, to 
feel borne in upon him, the actual predicament of the artist as 
a man of integrity in a democratic society. He broke out, he 
erupted from the very center of his being, and with such vio- 
lence that to save himself he had need of both that, imagination 
which represents the actual and that which shapes the possible. 
James made of the theme of the artist a focus for the ultimate 
theme of human integrity, how it is conceived, how it is de- 
stroyed, and how, ideally, it may be regained. For James, imagi- 
nation was the will of things, and as the will was inescapably 
moral, so the imagination could not help creating — could not fail 
rather to re-create — out of the evil of the artist's actual predica- 
ment the good of his possible invoked vision. As the artist is only 
a special case of the man, so his vision is only an emphatic image 
of the general human vision; that James could make so much of 
the special case and the emphatic image of the artist comes about 
because, more than any other novelist of his scope, he was him- 
self completely the artist. By which I mean that he was free to 
dramatize the artist precisely because he was himself so utterly 
given up to his profession that he was free of the predicament of 
the artist the moment he began to write. He felt none of that 


The Question of Henry James 

difficulty about conviction or principle or aim in his work 
which troubles a lesser writer; both his experience and his values 
came straight and clear and unquestionable, so much so that he 
seems to inhabit: another world, that other world which has as 
substance what for us is merely hoped for. James, as an artist, 
was above all a man of faith. As he said of one of his characters 
in another connection, he was copious with faith. 

But there is a disadvantage in too complete a faith, as well 
for an artist as for a saint. Complete faith runs to fanaticism or 
narrowness. The act of faith tends to substitute for understand- 
ing of the thing believed in. If your values come to you unques- 
tioned, you risk taking them on principle and of course. Only 
the steady supplication of doubt, the constant resolution of in- 
firmity, can exercise your values and your principles enough to 
give them, together, that stretch and scope which is their life. 
If you dismiss doubt and ignore infirmity, you will restrict the 
scope that goes with the equivocal and reduce the vitality that 
goes with richness of texture. So it was with Henry James. His 
very faith in his powers kept him from using them to their 
utmost and caused him to emphasize only his chosen, his con- 
victed view. That is why he is not of the very greatest writers, 
though he is one of the indubitably great artists, and especially 
in our present focus, the portrait of the artist. That is why, too, 
as his faith increased he came less and less to make fictions of 
people and more and more to make fables, to draw parables, for 
the ulterior purposes of his faith. Pie came less and less* to tell 
and more and more merely to say. But — and this is what saves 
him to us for reading — the habit of the novelist was so pervasive 
in him that he could no more than breathing help dramatizing 
his fables or actualizing, to the possible limit of his frame, the 
story of his parables. Indeed, in his old age, which for him con- 
stituted a continuing rebirth, ■ he made of the frame of hi< 
fables a new frame for the novel or tale only less than the great- 
est frames. I refer to The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove. 
The Golden Bowl, perhaps to The Sense of the Past and The 
Ivory Toiler, and certainly to the tales in The Finer Grain; foi 
in these works the form of the fable, the point of the parable. 
are brought to extreme use precisely by being embedded in the 


vhich exhibit ths J 
;'s work; and we J 

R. P. Blackmur 

sensibility of fiction. These take rise, I think, in The Sacred 
Fount, which, not a novel at all but a vast, shadowy, disintegrat- 
ing parable, disturbing, distressing, distrait, indeed distraught, 
remains in the degree of its fascination quite ineluctable. It is 
the nightmare nexus, in James's literary life, between the strug- 
gle to portray the integrity of the artist and the struggle to por- 
tray, to discover, the integrity of the self. 

This is another way of saying that the talesjyj 
artist occupy an intcrmcdiate_position in James' 
sTfall see that they look both ways, to the social novels that_pre- 
ce ded them and to the fi ction of fate that came after them. 
They look back to the conditions of life in general and forward 
to the prophecy of life beyond and under, or at any rate in spite 
of, the mutilating conditions. I think of Isabel Archer, in The^y^ 
Vortralt of a Lady, how the conditions of life, particularly the 
conditions of money and marriage and their miring in manners, 
slowly dawned on her. You feel that if Isabel can only ac- 
knowledge the conditions, i£ she can see for once what life is 
like, she will be free to go on, where to go on means to meet 
more and more conditions. We know that in the process of go- 
ing on she will lose — indeed she has already lost them — the 
freshness and promise and candor of youth, which arc taken as 
the ordinary expenses laid out for the general look, whether 
dimmed or sharpened always somehow maimed and marked, of 
maturity. So for Isabel Archer and most of the early fiction. 
On the other hand I think of Milly Theale in The Wings of the 
Dove, whom we see actually killed by the conditions of life, 
acknowledge them how she will, but who yet so transcends 
them that her image — the image of the lost dead — brings to 
Kate Croy and Merton Densher, who had betrayed her in life, 
an unalterable, unutterable knowledge of what life is under its 
mutilated likeness. Things could, as Kate told Merton at the 
end, never again be the same between them; all because of the 
freshness and candor which had not perished but been discov- 
ered in the death of Milly Theale, and the unbroken, unbreak- 
able promise of life which merely for them, as they had failed 
Milly, could not be kept but was to hover over them unavail- 
ingly ever afterward. Milly had her triumph in death; but in 

The Question of Henry James 

j The Ambassadors, Lambert Strether had his triumph in life, 
I and so Maggie Verver in The Golden Boivl, both triumphin g 
i precisely over the most mutilating conditions of life that co uld 
| well h ave come their way. So again, perhaps with the most beau- 
/ tiful lucidity of ail, there is the shabby little bookseller Her- 
bert Dodd in The Bench of Desolation, whom we see deprived 
of the last resource of outward dignity — as a character he is all 
scar tissue — till he has nothing left but his lonely hours upon his 
seaside bench of desolation. The bench of desolation is where 
you sit still with your fate — that of which you cannot be de- 
prived. For Herbert Dodd that bench has these many years 
turned out to be enough, when the return of the lost love of 
his youth, who he thought had betrayed him, makes it a bench 
of triumph as well. The triumph consists for him, as for the 
others, in the gradual inward mastery of the outward experi- 
ence, a poetic mastery which makes of the experience convic- 

Between the earlier persons who master life by subm itting to 
its conditio ns and t he later persons who master what lies und er 
t he conditions by achieving a conviction of the se lf — for surely 
a man's convictions may be said to be the very shape of his self 
— comes the little, the slightly anomalous race of artists. Why 
they come between them rather than either as a culmination or 
a beginning is plain when we look at their characteristic fate. 
The jnajx_who_is_c^jnj)j^e tely an artist is in completely a man, 
thojughJn_jus_a_rt he may envisage man completely. The meaning 
of the artist in history, that is in life as he lives it, in the condi- 
tions under which he works, is like the meaning of history itself. 
History, as Niebuhr says, is meaningful, but the meaning is not 
yet. The history of the artist is prophetic, but the meaning of 
the prophecy cannot now be known. What happens to the artist 
apart from his meaning, is common enough knowledge. If we 
look at the fables Henry James offers us, we see at once that 
all these artists are doomed men, as doomed as the characters 
in Hemingway, but not as in Hemingway by the coming com- 
mon death. They are doomed either because they cannot meet 
(the conditions of life imposed upon them by society or because I 
society will have none of them no matter how hard they try. I 


R. P. Blackmur 

That, for James, was the drama of the artist, and he put it in 
the simple white and black terms of the fable and the fairy 
story. The artist either gave in to the evil and corruption of 
society, or society refused a living to the good and incorruptible 
artist. But let us ask why James chose the artist for the living 
focus of his drama, when it might as well have been the queen 
or the kitchen maid as in the fairy tales, or the men and women 
ne^t door who provide us, unadulterated with any self-interest, 
such excellent views of ourselves. Why, that is, did not James 
begin with the persons he came to? 

We may say that he did not know enough, that he had not 
matured enough, and perhaps it would be better so to beg the 
question. But there is a kind of logic which we can apply after 
the event, which is where logic works best. The artist is given 
as in death struggle with society, as much so as the thief or the 
murderer but with the advantage of heroism and nobility as a 
luminous character in the mere murk of the struggle. That 
every man and woman, and perhaps more so every child, is also 
engaged in a death struggle with society, or at least with his 
neighbor's society, is not so clear; you would not think of your- 
self as struggling with society, but the artist and his critics have, 
I regret to say, vied with each other at every opportunity to 
see which could say so louder, especially since the spread of lit- 
eracy and education has multiplied artists of all .sorts at the 
same time that changing institutions took away the function 
of the artist in society. The artist became thus a natural puppet, 
ready-made, completely understandable, to represent the great 
central struggle of man as an individual, which is not often, 
when you consider the stakes, an understandable struggle at all, 
and to make a drama of which the novelist has to work from 
the ground up. It is no wonder then that James should consider 
the struggle of the artist as one of the great primary themes, 
especially when you add to the picture that he might incidentally 
dramatize himself a little — a temptation not beyond the purest 
artist — and do his trade a good turn. 

But the evidence is not limited to the writings of artists and 
critics. There comes particularly pat to the kind of artist of 
whom James wrote a passage in De Tocquevillc's classic work 

, *i 

The Question of Henry James 

on the Republic of the United States of America. It was not 
quite going to be, he foresaw long before Henry James began 
writing novels, a model republic of letters. There is a little 
chapter in the first book of the second part called "The Trade 
of Literature** from which I extract the following passage: 
"Democracy not only infuses a taste for letters among the trad- 
ing classes, but introduces a trading spirit into literature. . . . 
Among democratic nations^ a writer may natter himself that he 
will obtain at a cheap rate a meager reputation and a large for- 
tune. For this purpose he need not be admired, it is enough 
that he is liked. ... In democratic periods the public fre- 
quently treat authors as kings do their courtiers; they enrich 
and they despise them. . . . Democratic literature is always in- 
fested by a tribe of writers who look upon letters as a mere 
trade; and for some few great authors who adorn it, you may 
reckon thousands of idea-mongers." The picture is fresh enough 
for our own day, and we take it with the more authority be- 
cause it was frankly prophetic on the part of a man more than 
generously disposed towards democracy. It is a description that 
James could have made for himself, and which, in fact, he did 
largely make, both in his life of Hawthorne and in the fiction 
which we are about to engage. De Tocqueville only reminds us 
of what James well knew, that an author can expect his readers 
to know that the race of literary artists is itself composed of 
good and bad, of very black and very white practitioners; so 
that the nobility of the good writer will go as granted once it is 
mentioned, as will the flunkyism of the bad writer. Thus, the 
author of a fiction about an artist has all the advantages of 
coarse melodrama without losing any of the advantages of high 
tragedy. He can merely impute unto his chosen character what 
virtues or vices he likes without being under any necessity to 
show them. In fiction, the stated intent of goodness, of high 
seriousness, is worthless in every realm of life except that of 
artist; elsewhere the character must be shown as actual, in the 
artist the stated intention is enough. We shall see that James 
fully availed himself of this freedom, redeeming himself only 
by the eloquence of his statement and the lesson of his parable. 
These, the eloquence and the lesson, will be what we bring away 

[i 9 6] 

R. P. Blackmur 

with us. For it goes without saying that James was never taken 
in, in his created characters, by the meretricious, and was always 
deliberately sold by the high serious. In this respect, as perhaps 
nowhere else in James, the reader always knows exactly where 
he is at. What happens to the literary personages will vary' with 
the incident and the conditions recorded; but nothing can hap- 
pen to their characters once they are stated, for their characters 
are articulated ready-made as soon after their first appearance as 
possible, like puppets or like gods as you may choose to think. 

This is no accident nor any part of James's idiosyncrasy; it is 
a limiting condition of the artist as a character in fiction to the 
extent that he is represented in the role of artist. If he drops the 
role, anything within the power of the author to represent may 
happen to him as a person; as artist he is only a shrunken and 
empty simulacrum of himself in his other roles; he may know 
the meaning, but he cannot share the motion. 

This is one of the lessons that if James's fables arc taken lit- 
erally they best attest; and literally is very near how James 
meant his lessons to be taken. But we do not need to stick to 
James. The character of Stephen Dcdalus, both in The Portrait 
of the Artist as a Young Man and in Ulysses, certainly works of 
the greatest richness and scope, comes to us very fully as a 
young man, but as an artist he comes to us only by the elo- 
quence of Joyce's mere statement. The poem he writes and the 
diary he keeps, the lecture he gives on Hamlet, come to us quite 
independent of the created figure of Stephen. Even the greatest 
declaration that ends the earlier book, where Stephen resolves 
that he will "forge in the smithy of his soul the uncreated con- 
science of his race," must be taken either as a free lyric spoken 
by an actor, where something else might have done as well, or as 
an image in which the whole boy shrinks suddenly into an 
agonized intention that can never be realized in life or act but 
only in art itself. It is much the same thing with Hcrr Aschen- 
bach, the old novelist in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, who 
is never given to us as a novelist except by imputation. The role 
of artist is indeed called on for other purposes, to give quickly 
a background against which the reader will find credible and 
dramatic the image of old Aschenbach, the famous and dignified 


The Question of Henry James 

novelist, as an outsider, a figure so isolated by his profession of 
artist that he fairly aches to corrupt himself, to debase himself, 
both as a man and as an artist. It might almost be put that to 
the degree that he had become an artist he had ceased existing — 
as it were, ceased living — so that the desire for life becomes iden- 
tified with the temptation to corruption. And so it turns out. 
The only possible resumption of life for him is tainted with cor- 
ruption, with effeminate infatuation, with deliberate indignity 
and self-humiliation. But it is too late in the season, the season 
of his life and the season in Venice, both of which are struck 
down by pestilence. His adored and beautiful Tadzio is taken 
away to safety, and Herr Aschcnbach resumes his profession, in 
the act of dying, by in his delirium re-enacting the Vhaedrus of 
Plato. Aschcnbach the artist could have no life except in that 
terrible privation of life which is art. 

It is only the obverse of the same coin that Andre Gide shows 
us in The Counterfeiters where the novelist reaches life only by 
a driven and deliberate corruption, a personal disintegration as 
great as the formal disintegration of the work of art in which it 
it represented. That Mann and Gide show us corruption as the 
necessary predilection of the artist, where James and Joyce show 
us art — that is, integrity of spirit — as the redemption of life, 
is perhaps due to the seeming fact that neither the German nor 
the Frenchman have as full and fanatic a conviction of their 
profession of artists as that suffered at an equal maximum by 
both James and Joyce. 

To get back a little nearer to our particular problem of the 
portrait of the artist in Henry James — though, indeed, we have 
never been far from it — there is another way of expressing the 
predicament of the artist as a character in fiction. He comes to 
life only as he ceases to be an artist; he comes to life, in a word, 
only as he fails to be an artist, and he fails when the conditions 
of life overcome him at the expense of his art. This becomes a 
very pretty problem, indeed, when the novelist reflects that all 
this amounts to saying that the actual source of art, the life of 
which it is the meaning, is the artist's undoing. Gide solves the 
problem, and so docs Mann, by disintegrating the art as well as 
the life. Joyce, with no greater honesty but with greater moral 


R. P. Blackmur 

insight, represents the struggle of the man in society, not as an 
outsider but as one very much at the heart of things, to become 
an artist. It was not for nothing that Joyce denned the senti- 
mentalist as him who "is unwilling to incur the enormous re- 
sponsibility for a thing done." Stephen Dedalus is shown to us in 
the very process of realizing, for the sake of his art, responsi- 
bility for every deed of his life. In Joyce, the artist, like God, 
dies every day. He dies into man and is reborn; the death is 
necessary to the birth. Henry James had neither the Catholicism 
of Joyce, the bitter protestantism of Gidc, nor the Faustian 
spirit of Mann at his back; he had rather — and only — his un - 
questioned faith in th e a dequacy of t he fr ee intelli ge nce in li fe 
and the freed imagination in art. He had thus less equipment, 
or at any rate a less articulated philosophy, than the others, and 
it is perhaps for that reason that he produced his ideal artists 
who failed only in life and succeeded only in art, and his other 
artists, equally ideal, who failed in art only because they insisted 
on success, financial or social success, in life. The realm of the 
ideal is often nearest to those who have nearest to no philosophy; 
but so is the realm of the actual, which is the artist's realm, and 
James may have been nearer right in what he did with his facts 
than the others. 

At least we have James's own abundantly eloquent answer to 
the charge that he ought never to have exhibited in art creatures 
who never existed in life. I give part of the answer as he made 
it in the preface to The Lesson of the Master. "What does your 
contention of non-existent conscious exposures, in the midst of 
all the stupidity and vulgarity and hypocrisy, imply but that 
we have been, nationally, so to speak, graced with no instance 
of recorded sensibility fine enough to react against these things? 
— an admission too distressing. What one would accordingly 
fain do is to baffle any such calamity, to create the record, in 
default of any other enjoyment of it; to imagine, in a word, 
the honourable, the producible case. What better example than 
this of the high and helpful public and, as it were, civic use of 
the imagination? — a faculty for the possible fine employments 
of which in the interest of morality my esteem grows every 
hour that I live. How can one consent to make a picture of the 

The Question of Henry James 

preponderant futilities and vulgarities and miseries of life with- 
out the impulse to exhibit as well from time to time, in its place, 
some fine example of the reaction, the opposition or the escape?" 

In this passage, and in the whole preface from which it is 
taken, I think James reaches the pinnacle of principle to which 
he was able to expose the idealism with which he worked; and 
I have planted my quotations here in the center of this discus- 
sion of the portrait of the artist because they raise — especially 
just after our references to the practice of Joyce and Gide and 
Mann — considerations of great importance not only to the criti- 
cism, the appreciation, of James's fictions, but also to the whole 
general theory of fiction itself — if you like to the whole theory 
of art. There are several theories of the value of art which are 
tenable until you begin to apply them in the interpretation of 
particular works of art, when as a rule the value of the art 
shrinks at once to nothing and there is nothing but moral value 
left. No artist and hardly any user of art whose eyes are open 
can take the slightest interest in any nothing but theory of art's 
value. James's theory is very tempting because, if adopted, it 
shows how moral value gets into a work of art without leaving 
you to shudder for the fate of the art. The artist, he says with 
all the rush and eloquence of immediate experience, the artist 
creates the moral value out of the same material and by the 
same means with which he creates his other values — out of the 
actual and by means of imagination. The values are, though dis- 
tinguishable, inextricable. Some works may show aesthetic val- 
ues without moral values, and other works very clearly have 
no aesthetic values and yet shriek to heaven with their moral 
values, but where you have both orders of value as they are cre- 
ated, together, so they must be felt together, at least so long 
as the work being enjoyed is enjoyed as art. 

Among the consequences which flow from James's statement,' 
if I understand it right, there arc two which deserve emphasis 
for the freedom and the privation they impose on the artist. One 
has to do with the inclusive nature of moral value in art. As the 
experience in art must be somehow of the actual and as the rec- 
ord must be somehow of the imaginative, then the artist is free 
to create evil as well as good without risk of police interference. 


R. P. Blackmur 

It is not that his vision of evil may overcome his vision of good, 
but that, if he is to be an artist of any scope, he must create 
both, and if the emphasis is on the one in a given work it must 
have the other as its under or supporting side. It is truly the 
Devil who minds God's business as it is God who gives the Devil 
something to do. But, and this is the second consequence kept 
for emphasis from James's statement, to have validity whether 
moral or aesthetic, whatever the artist creates (though not what 
he merely puts in by the way) must show its source in the 
actual; for it is otherwise either immoral or vapid, and likely 
both. If the architecture of even the noblest cathedral were not 
based on the actual it would fall apart, but without a vision be- 
yond the actual it could never have been built at all. Art, on 
this view, tends toward the ideal bu; without ever quite tran- 
scending the actual from which it sprang. The ideal, in fact, in 
this restricted sense of the word, is what the artist creates; but 
the ideal, to have any significant worth, must approach the 
actual, with the striking effect which needs every meditation we 
can give it, that the nearer it approaches the actual the more 
greatly ideal the creation will seem. There is the force of Dante's 
ideal hell, that it approaches so close to the actual of this life; 
and there is the relative weakness of James's tales of the literary 
life, and despite his plea of moral necessity, that though they 
spring from hints in the actual world the "super-subtle fry" of 
his authors do not approach near enough to the actual. The fable 
is always frailer than the image, however more cogent. Thus, 
Joyce's Dubliners who translated the initials IHS of In Hoc 
Signo over the cross, as "I Have Suffered," were not blasphemers 
but better believers for so doing. 

The examples arc endless; but to our present interest it is the 
principle that counts, and its relation to the artist, and if we 
turn to our chosen talcs of Henry James we shall find that 
though as dramas they do not show us very much of the actual, 
as fables they illuminate the principles by which James was later 
to anchor his most difficult and precarious ideals safe and firm — 
poetically valid — in flesh and blood. That is, as these talcs oc- 
cupy an intermediate position in the general development of 
James as works of art, so they represent for us an intermediate 


The Question of Henry James 

state of knowledge, that critical and fascinating state when 
principles fairly itch for action but have not yet run down into 
the skill of the hand that acts, that in this case writes. As stories 
they are stories about stories, and the most fascinating kind of 
stories, those that for both aesthetic and moral reasons can never 
quite be written. All the moral value is in the possibility not 
lived up to, and all the aesthetic value is in the possibility not 
lived down to. It is the same possibility, looking either way, the 
possibility of the really superior artist triumphing over society 
by cutting himself off from every aspect of it except the ex- 
pressive, or the posssibility of this same superior fellow — and I 
hardly know which version is more tragic — coming to failure 
and ruin, expressive failure and personal ruin, by hands whose 
caresses are their most brutalizing blows, the hands of society 
itself, the society that, in De Tocqueville's phrases, would like 
an author rather than admire him, or, worse, would enrich 
and despise him. 

The possibilities are indeed wonderful, and furnish half the 
conversation at literary parties, where the most enriched authors 
always turn out the most despised, very often justly. James does 
not deal with the literary party, whether because the institution 
had not grown much in his day or because it was open only to 
satire, which was not his purpose. He deals rather with the Eng- 
lish house party and the English dinner party where there is a 
reputable author present for demolition. The effect is not too 
different, and affords the advantages of an outwardly more 
decorous set of conventions and even for a welcome shift of 
scenes from lawn to church, dinner table to parlor, or parlor to 
smoking room, smoking room to bedroom; which taken to- 
gether, as even a novice at fiction should know, makes the prob- 
lem of moving people from place to place and so of setting up 
new relations or modifying old ones, relatively easy. So it is that 
all but one of the fables we are dealing with make use of the 
machinery of entertainment for the mechanics of the plot. That 
is, the artifices that in actual society do most to prevent com- 
munication and obscure situations, James uses to promote in- 
timacy and to clarify situations. He mastered the means which 
because of his life — in one London year he dined out three hun- 


R. P. Blackmur 

dred times — were almost alone at his disposal; the lesson of 
which may be that it explains why so many of James's people 
are never able to meet each other openly and yet contrive to 
put everything between them that is necessary. 

That is exactly the situation in The Figure in the Carpet 
where I think we may put it that we know what the puzzle is 
precisely to the extent we realize it is insoluble, like the breath 
of life. The narrator who is himself a writer and nameless (the 
narrators of all these tales are writers and most of them are 
nameless) reviews the latest novel of Hugh Vercker in a maga- 
zine called the Middle, and shortly afterwards attends a house 
party where Vereker is a guest, as is his book, both unopened by 
any of the company, though both are the principal subjects of 
attention. Someone shows Vereker the review and Vereker says 
it is very bad; he has not realized the reviewer is present. When 
he does so, he apologizes to the narrator but insists that, never- 
theless, like everybody else, he has missed the Figure in the Car- 
pet: the general intention, the string to his pearls, the passion 
of his passion. The narrator tries his best to make up, both by 
reading Vereker 's works and by tackling him personally. On 
his failure he passes the puzzle along to his friend George Cor- 
vick, who shares the problem with his fiancee. They in their 
turn grow futile and frenzied — so frenzied that their marriage 
comes to hang upon their success. Corvick goes oiT to Bombay 
as a correspondent, and while there wires: Eureka. The narrator 
and Corvick's fiancee, Gwendolyn Ermc, try to guess what it 
must be. Corvick stops off on Vercker at Rapallo during his 
return journey, and writes that Vereker has verified his discov- 
ery. Gwendolyn marries George on condition that he reveal his 
secret; he dies on his honeymoon before writing it down. Gwen 
refuses to tell the narrator what it is, because, says she, it is her 
life. Vereker dies. Then Gwen, who has remarried to Drayton 
Dcanc, a critic, herself dies on the birth of a second child. After 
a decent but excruciated interval — for in James decency most 
of all is subject to excruciation — the narrator does his best to 
discover from Deane what the secret of Vereker's work had 
been. But Gwendolyn had never told him; and the figure in the 
carpet is safe. Nobody knows or can know what it can be. What 

The Question of Henry James 

then was the puzzle? It may be that there was none, or none 
except to those who wrote — or read — for the passion of the pas- 
sion; which was certainly not how the narrator, nor any of his 
friends, either wrote or read. A frenzied curiosity is not passion. 
Or it may be that the figure in the carpet is necessarily ineluc- 
table. Perhaps it only ought to be there; that much, acutencss 
can discover. In his prefatory remarks, James docs nothing to 
help; but says only that "the question that accordingly comes 
up, the issue of the affair, can be but whether the very secret of 
perception hasn't been lost. That is the situation, and The Figure 
in the Carpet exhibits a small group of well-meaning persons 
engaged in a test." We can only note that well-meaning persons 
are notoriously unperceptive, and add that the secret of percep- 
tion in readers comes very near the secret of creation in artists. 

The Figure in the Carpet is perhaps a tea-time and tepid- 
whisky fable, for it is over these beverages that it largely occurs; 
and so represents, I think, no more than at most can be made 
out of obsessed gossip. James may have meant more for it — his 
preface suggests that he did — but it would seem actually, as 
written, to mean no more than that there is a figure in the car- 
pet if you can imagine it for yourself; it is not there to discover. 
It is rather like Kafka, manque, the exasperation of the mystery 
without *he presence of the mystery, or a troubled conscience 
without any evidence of guilt. 

Rather similar but carried further, further for actuality, by 
the very conventionality, of its fantasy — its glaring incredibility 
— is the fable of The Private Life. Here again the narrator is a 
writer unnamed, this time on vacation in the Alps in a house 
full of people connected with the arts. Among the guests are 
Clare Vawdrcy, a writer of genius but a second-rate man; Lord 
MeJlfont, a magnificent public figure but nothing much when 
not in public; and Blanche Adncy, a great actress, for whom 
Vawdrey is v/riting a play, and who is quite friendly with the 
narrator. The second-rateness of Vawdrey and the magnificent 
public presence of Mellfont gradually become suspect to Blanche 
and the narrator. Pursuing their curiosity, the narrator sneaks 
into Vawdrey *s room in the evening, while Vawdrey is outside 
talking to Blanche; there the narrator discovered Vawdrey's 


R. P. Blackmur 

other self writing industriously in the dark. Later, by plan, 
Blanche gets her chance, and while the narrator keeps Vawdrey 
outside herself makes the acquaintance of the other or "ghost" 
self and falls in love with him. Meantime, the narrator finds the 
outer self even duller than he had thought: "the world," he re- 
flects, "was vulgar and stupid, and, the real man would have 
been a fool to come out for it when he could gossip and dine 
by deputy." Lord Mcllfont, on the other hand, must be himself 
an apparition, called into being by a public relation only; by 
himself he must be nothing, literally nothing. Blanche and the 
narrator go looking for him on that assumption, and of neces- 
sity he appears in front of them; if they had not looked for 
him, he would have been unable to materialize. "He was all pub- 
lic and had no corresponding private life, just as Clare Vawdrey 
was all private and had no corresponding public." Of this little 
piece what does one say but that the ghost story is the most 
plausible form of the fairy talc; it makes psychological penetra- 
tion ominous because not verifiable. Who would care to verify 
a ghost, especially two ghosts who have the unity only of oppo- 
sitcs? Life, the actuality, lies somewhere between; and it is a 
relief to think that your dull man of genius keeps a brilliant 
ghost in his workroom, just as it is a malicious delight to figure 
that your brilliant public man is utterly rcsourceless without a 

The Private Life is a fantastic statement, so far as it has a 
serious side, of the inviolable privacy of the man of genius. The 
Death of the Lion makes a plea for the protection of that pri- 
vacy, and for much more, on the ground that if you success- 
fully violate it your genius, if he have no deputy self to gossip 
and dine, perishes from exposure. The narrator is again a young, 
^detached writer and journalist with a strong sense of allegiance 
to the great, is sent to write up Nell Paraday at the moment he 
achieves, at the age of fifty, after a long illness, with his new 
book, the public success of being made a subject of a leader in 
the Empire, An interviewer for thirty-seven syndicated papers 
arrives just after Paraday has read the narrator the manuscript 
plan — a plan finished and perfect in itself — of his next and 
greatest book. The narrator takes over the interviewer, and goes 


The Question of Henry James 

on to take over as much protective custody of Paraday as pos- 
sible. But Paraday, with his success, is nevertheless taken up by 
the unreading, by those who hate literature in the guise of ador- 
ing writers, especially by a Mrs. Wimbush who has the fortune 
of a great brewery. Paraday a little excuses his not throwing 
Mrs. Wimbush out of doors on the ground that he can get mate- 
rial for his writing out of her. The narrator, however, has a 
single success in keeping off an American girl with an autograph 
album to fill, but who really loves Paraday's work, understands 
that reading is greater than personality, and agrees to seek the 
author, as the narrator tells her to, "in his works even as God in 
Nature." Neil Paraday had been made, as the narrator says, a 
contemporary. "That was what had happened: the poor man 
was to be squeezed into his horrible age. I felt as if he had been 
overtaken on the crest of the hill and brought back to the city. 
A little more and he would have dipped down the short cut to 
posterity and escaped." To be a contemporary was to be a lion 
and lions of the contemporary necessarily die soon. Thus Para- 
day soon ivants to become ill again; he knew what was happen- 
ing to him, but he could not help surrendering to it. "He filled 
his lungs, for the most part, with the comedy of his queer fate: 
the tragedy was in the spectacles through which I chose to look. 
He was conscious of inconvenience, and above all of a great re- 
nouncement; but how could he have heard a mere dirge in the 
bells of his accession?" 

What happens is inevitable from the title and from what has 
already been said. Paraday is seduced into going to a house party 
at Mrs. Wimbush's country place which is called Prestidge — a 
surface quality obtained, if you remember your etymology, by 
sleight of hand. There is to be a great foreign princess there, 
and many others, all to hear him read his precious manuscript 
plan. He falls sick and, dying, instructs the narrator to print 
it as his last work, small but perfect. However, Mrs. Wimbush 
has lent it to a guest who in turn has lent it to another, and so 
on, none of them by any chance reading it; so that it is lost. 
Before our Lion actually dies he has become a burden, for the 
next two in Mrs. Wimbush's scries of Lions come before he is 
out of the way; and it is in the identity of the new beasts that 


R. P. Blackmur 

we see the true estimation in which Mrs. Wimbush — in which 
society — holds literature. The new beasts are two popular suc- 
cesses, Guy "Walsingham, who is a woman, and Dora Forbes, who 
is a man with red mustaches. Their publishers think it necessary 
that they take opposite sexes in their pen names. But the narra- 
tor says rather that they are writers of some third sex: the suc- 
cess sex, no doubt, which can alone cope with the assaults of an 
adulating society. 

Here we see the figure of a great writer preyed upon; the Lion 
is brought down by the brutality of a society which could have 
no use for him except as quarry. In The Next Time we have 
the contrary fable, that of the writer who struggles desperately 
to make society his prey, but fails because he cannot help remain- 
ing the harmless, the isolated monarch of his extreme, imagi- 
native, ardent self. Society, seen as his prey, has no trouble at 
all in keeping out of his way. Ray Limbert's only successful step 
was the initial step of a "bad" marriage to a good wife, who 
has a mother and bears children who require support. He has a 
sister-in-law who is a successful popular novelist, where he him- 
self is incontestably a great writer. He gave the narrator"* (again 
a literary man) "one of the rarest emotions of the literary life, 
the sense of an activity in which I could critically rest." How- 
ever, it was necessary for him to earn his living, and after failing 
at journalism, the narrator gets him the post of editor with a 
year's contract at complete liberty. As an editor, Ray Limbert 
resolves to contribute serially a deliberately bad novel in the 
hope of achieving success, and requires of his friends that they 
do not read the installments for shame. His difficulty there was 
that he was one of those "people who can't be vulgar for try- 
ing." He loses his post as editor, partly because of the authors 
whom he had printed but mostly because of his own novel, 
which so far from being popular or obvious was "charming with 
all his charm and powerful with all his power: it was an unscru- 
pulous, an unsparing, a shameless merciless masterpiece. . . . 
The perversity of the effort, even though heroic, had been frus- 
trated by the purity of the gift." As the narrator finished his 
reading he looked out the window for a sight of the summer 
dawn, his eyes "compassionately and admiringly filled. The 

[*o 7 ] 

The Question of Henry James 

eastern sky, over the London housetops, had a wonderful tragic 
crimson. That was the colour of his magnificent mistake." It 
was a mistake which Ray Limbert — by the terms of the fable — 
repeated, always believing that thr next time he would do the 
trick. All the narrator could say was "that genius was a fatal 
disturber or that the unhappy man had no effectual flair. When, 
he went abroad to gather garlic lie came home with heliotrope. ,, 
Finally he forgot "the next time." "He had merely waked up 
one morning again in the country of the blue and had stayed 
there with a good conscience and a great idea," and died, 

"In the country of the blue" is a very lonely place to be, for 
it is very nearly empty except for the self, and is gained only 
by something like a religious retreat, by an approximation of 
birth or death or birth-in-death. James tried for it in fiction I 
think but once, in The Great Good Place, here mentioned but in 
passing, where there is an adumbration rather than an account 
given of the retreat of the author George Doane, made for the 
recovery of genius, "which he had been in danger of losing"; 
he had returned to himself after eight hours to find his room 
"disencumbered, different, twice as large. It was all right." Yet 
there was some constant recourse for James to the country of 
the blue; it was where he would have had his projected great 
authors live, and it was where, as we shall see he reported, he 
sometimes lived himself. 

But before we look at that sight, let us look at the tale which 
of all that James wrote best prepares us for it, The Lesson of 
the Master. This is probably the finest, surely the clearest, most 
brilliant, and most eloquent of all James's pleading fables of 
the literary life. It has greater scope than the others, itself rings 
with greatness, and is more nearly dramatic in character, more 
nearly joins the issue of the ideal and the actual. Unlike the 
other tales in our present list it is related in the third person 
from the point of view of the most implicated person in it, Paul 
Overt. The relations between that distinguished young talent 
and the master, Henry St. George, who has for years done less 
than his best work, are exhibited in terms of Marian Fancourt, 
of an interest and an intelligence in the arts hardly less than 


R. P. Blackmur 

her beauty, as a nexus for the conflict of loyalties between the 
master and the disciple. All three meet for the first time on a 
country week end at Summcrsoft. Both men are taken with 
Marian Fancourt. Overt respects St. George vastly, and when 
St. George tells him that he is good and must be better, referring 
to his own inadequacy, he responds by a kind of preliminary 
submission. In London Overt falls in love with Marian, St. 
George more or less making way for him. For each the two 
others are the poles of attraction. Overt visits St. George in his 
study after a party, and for most of thirteen pages St. George 
exhorts him magnificently to give up everything, marriage, 
money, children, social position — all the things to which St. 
George himself had succumbed — for the sake of his art. Overt 
takes the master pretty much at his word and goes abroad for 
two years writing his best thing yet under great privation of all 
personal life. While he is abroad St. George's wife dies, and 
Overt returns to find St. George and Marian on the verge of 
marriage, and so feels brutally cheated. It turns out that St. 
George has married Marian partly to save Overt from succumb- 
ing to the false gods, to save him from having everything but 
the great thing. 

The great thing is "The sense of having done the best — the 
sense which is the real life of the artist and the absence of which 
is his death, of having drawn from his intellectual instrument 
the finest music that nature had hidden in it, of having played 
it as it should be played." When Overt complains that he is not 
to be allowed the common passions and affections of men, St. 
George answers that art is passion enough. When the whole 
.ascetic position — for it is no less than ascetic in that it draws the 
artist as mostly not a man — Overt sums it up for him by crying 
that it leaves the artist condemned to be "a mere disfranchised 
monk" who "can produce his effect only by giving up personal 
happiness. What an arraignment of art!" And St. George takes 
him up: "Ah you don't imagine that I'm defending art? 'Ar- 
raignment' — I should think so! Happy the societies in which it 
hasn't made its appearance, for from the moment it comes they 
have a consuming ache, they have an uncurable corruption, in 
their breast. Most assuredly is the artist in a false position! But 


The Question of Henry James 

I thought we were taking him for granted." It was when Overt 
found Marian married to St. George that he realized what he 
had been taking for granted. One hardly knows whether society 
or the .artist is worse flayed here; but one knows, and there is 
only the need one feels for a grace note in James's concluding 
remark that "the Master was essentially right and that Nature 
had dedicated him to intellectual, not to personal passion." 

The portrait of the artist in Henry James is now almost com- 
plete: the man fully an artist is the man, short of the saint, most 
wholly deprived. This is the picture natural to the man still in 
revolt, to the man who still identifies the central struggle of life 
in society as the mere struggle of that aspect of his life of which 
he makes his profession, and who has not yet realized, but is on 
the verge of doing so, that all the professions possible in life 
are mutually inclusive. One's own profession is but the looking 
glass and the image of the others; and the artist is he who being 
by nature best fitted to sec the image clear is damned only if 
he docs not. If he sees, his vision disappears in his work, which 
is the country of the blue. That is why the only possible portrait 
to paint of the artist will be a portrait of him as a failure. 
Otherwise there will be only the portrait of the man. That is 
why James portrayed the artist chiefly during his intermediate 
dubious period, and why in his full maturity, like St. George, 
but in a different richer sense, took the artist for granted and 
portrayed men and women bent, not on a privation but a full- 
ness of being. 

There remains still to record only James's portrait of himself 
as the artist in the man mature, and for that there are two pas- 
sages to quote, of which one is from a letter written at the age 
of seventy to Henry Adams urging him to cultivate the interest 
of his consciousness. "You see I still, in presence of life (or of 
what you deny to be such,) have reactions — as many as pos- 
sible—and the book I sent you is proof of them. It's, I _ suppose, 
because J am that queer monster, the artist, an obstinate finality, 
an inexhaustible sensibility. Hence the reactions — appearances, 
memories, many things, go on playing upon it with conse- 
quences that I note and 'enjoy' (grim word!) noting. It all 


R. P. Blackmur 

takes doing — and I do, I believe I shall do yet again — it is still 
an act of life." 

That is the man in life as artist. The other passage, with 
which we end this chapter, is taken from some penciled notes 
written some time in his last years on a New Year's Eve, near 
midnight, during a time of inspiration. Lubbock prints the 
whole of the notes in the introduction to his edition of the 
Letters, saying that "There is no moment of all his days in 
which it is now possible to approach him more clearly.'* I quote 
only the last paragraph. The shape, the life, the being of a novel 
having shown itself clear, the exaltation is so great that James 
is left once again with just the story of a story to tell, this time 
of himself. 

Thus just these first little wavings of the oh .so tremulously passion- 
ate little old wand (now!) make for me, I feci, a sort of promise of 
richness and beauty and variety; a sort of portent of the happy pres- 
ence of the elements. The good days of last August and oven my 
broken September and my better October come back to me with their 
gage of divine possibilities, and I welcome these to my arms, I press 
them with unutterable tenderness. I seem to emerge from these recent 
bad days — the fruit of blind accident — and the prospect clears and 
flushes, and my poor blest old Genius pats me so admirably and lov- 
ingly on the back that I turn, I screw round, and bend my lips to pas- 
sionately, in my gratitude, kiss its hands. 

The feeling in this passage is not uncommon; most of us have 
been terrified at its counterpart; but the ability to surrender to 
the expression of it is rare, and is what brought James himself, 
for the moment of expression, into the blue. 


*, * 

The Poetics of Henry James 

[ J 935 ] 

A PURPOSE and an achievement like Henry James's are 
lost on no department of writing, not even one with which 
he has as little practical concern as poetry. The latest revival of 
interest in him, having now warranted the first collection of his 
critical prefaces to his own books under the title The Art of 
the Novel, must include the attention of contemporary poets. 
What he did to prepare the day for them in England and Amer- 
ica, and what, indirectly, he saw their problem to be, is an 
important part of our literary intelligence. His prefaces are the 
document in which it is most comprehensively stated; Mr. 
Blackmur's account of their definitions and doctrines is an ex- 
cellent foreword to what will in time doubtless be recognized as 
an authentic poetics not only for novelists but for other literary 
craftsmen in the twentieth century. It has already been recog- 
nized as such in several quarters since James's death in 19 17. 
The memorial issue of the Little Kevicw (August, 191 8) was 
an early testimony; Pound's program notes to the novels printed 
there now reappear in his latest collection of essays, Make It 
New, and establish the connection with modern poetry which 
was already apparent in Eliot's early verse; the studies of F. M. 
Ford, Pelham Edgar, J. W. Beach, and Percy Lubbock have lent 
the scrutiny of more formal analysis; and the Hound and Horn 
last April offered a critical retrospect of thirteen aspects of 
James's art and age. 

In a time when most literary forms tend to become absorbed 
into that loose and amorphous species called the "novel," James's 
principles must have at least the negative value of telling what 


Morton D. Zabel 

the novel is not: what is inappropriate, unspecific, or unnatural 
to it, and how its special character and function must be main- 
tained, thus keeping poets from reckless entry on its preserves 
and consequent damage to their own. But he has a more positive 
value for them. He saw, from the vantage point of a lifetime's 
discipline and responsibility, the disintegrating and cheapening 
tendencies at work in the entire body of literature; he was able 
by the clairvoyance of a resolute artist's unflinching intelligence 
to see that these tendencies, at the beginning of this century, 
were entering on their most productive and ruinous phase. At 
an advanced age he sat down to write his prefaces as 

a sort of plea for Criticism, for Discrimination, for Appreciation on 
other than infantile lines — as against the so almost universal Anglo- 
Saxon absence of these things; which tends so, in our general trade, it 
seems to me, to break the heart. . . . They ought, collected together, 
none the less, to form a sort of comprehensive manual or vadcmcciim 
for aspirants in our arduous profession. 

They were to stand, in other words, as a warning against license 
and as a guide through the deceptive privileges of a free age for 
authorship. That guidance touches on the contemporary poetic 
problem at four important points: the motives of technio^e, 
the nature of artistic intelligence, the duty of self-determina- 
tion, and the character of modernity. All of them have been 
paramount in literature during the past half-century, made so 
by the decline of romantic principles and the resistance of crea- 
tive integrity to the confusion which those principles induced. 
And it is worth noting that the corrective which James formu- 
lated for his branch of literature, fiction, was, when he wrote the 
prefaces in 1907- 1909, fully as imperative among poets as 
among the generation of novelists from whom he now towers 
as an exemplar and standard. 

That generation, in England and America between 1880 and 
the war, was the enthusiastic inheritor of naturalism. The zest 
for experience had not yet been curbed by the terrors or the 
surfeit of realism; the feast of detail had not yet been restricted 
by the cautions of selective taste and form. France, the country 
of James's spiritual affinity and apprenticeship, had furnished 

The Question of Henry James 

both — the discipline of fact in Zola and the Goncourts, the rigor 
of design in Flaubert. England had to wait several decades for a 
similar correction. When Pater, Moore, Gissing, and Butler ap- 
peared, their value was disregarded or denounced, and in Amer- 
ica the day for a Henry Adams or Stephen Crane had not yet 
been prepared. The new generation of storytellers were chiefly 
products of a higher journalism — Wells, Bennett, Galsworthy, 
Dreiser — rescued for periods by the finer conscience of their 
material but descending too readily to tract-writing or the man- 
ufacture of best sellers. James viewed this hazardous interval in 
the novel with distress; his opinions may still be read in Nofcs 
on Novelists. He saw twentieth-century novelists as declining 
from a great tradition, as standing in a precarious position where 
they no longer commanded the vigor of that tradition's early 
novelty, but still too immature in critical acumen to find in true 
perception or formal maturity the antidote that might rescue 
them from the "sickness of popularity." He was aware that this 
interval had bred certain masters; his praise of Conrad shows 
that he saw how a dangerous transition might be bridged. But 
he was also aware that between the deterioration of romantic 
sentiment (in Stevenson) and of realism (in Reade, Wells, and 
Walpole), there survived one certain mediator — the proving 
discipline of technique. He was particularly aware of this be- 
cause he himself had been rescued by such an austerity, pa- 
tiently mastered through forty years of work. He, in his earlier 
generation, had been obliged to pass from the exuberant fertility 
of pioneer experiences (in Roderick Hudson, Confidence, The 
American) to the gradual mastery of a critical authority which 
would allow him to control not only the abundant novelties of 
the' American scene but the larger prospects of a European her- 
itage. For him the age of discovery was past, but the age of val- 
ues had just begun. The copious omniscience which had de- 
scended from Dickens, Melville, and Tolstoy, and in poetry 
from Hugo, Whitman, and Swinburne, disclosed to him its 
perils as well as its privileges. For novelists wise enough to care, 
his career as an artist from 1875 to 19 10 provided the best pos- 
sible example of how this danger might be resisted. From that 
resistance he derived the increasingly refined and subtilized style 


Morton D. Zabel 

which has been, for most readers, James's chief claim to distinc- 
tion. The poets of English-speaking countries had no similar 
model of discipline; they had to turn to France. The age that 
was dominated by Whitman was one of inventive fertility and 
exploration, but not of discrimination; James's influence in the 
field of fiction anticipates by a quarter-century the efforts 
toward limitation and concretion which have been paramount 
in poetic theory and writing since the war. 

But James's famous stylistic subtlety and refinement have 
more to justify them than their aim to perfect the instrument 
of language. They are indissociable from his conception of the 
artist's intelligence. The omniscience to which modern writers 
lay claim was to him not a matter of scope but of insight, not 
of expansion but of penetration. In this he directly opposes the 
disciples of Whitman. His effort to perfect his technique was 
not only, as Mrs. Wharton has said, an attempt to lift the novel 
out of its infantile delight in block-building to an adult concern 
for structure and manipulation; it was his way of showing what 
the creative intelligence is and should be, and the objects to 
which it should be applied. As Mr. Blackmur says: 

James had in his style and perhaps in the life which it reflected an 
idiosyncrasy so powerful, so overweening, that to many it seemed a 
stultifying vice, or at least an inexcusable heresy. . . . He enjoyed 
an excess of intelligence and he sufFercd , ) both in life and art, from an 
excessive effort to communicate it, to represent it in all its fullness. 
His style grew elaborate in the degree that he rendered shades and re- 
finements of meaning and feeling not usually rendered at all. . . . His 
intention and all his labor was to represent dramatically intelligence 
at its most difficult, its most lucid, its most beautiful point. This is 
the sum of his idiosyncrasy. 

In other words, it ceased to be an idiosyncrasy and became a test 
of character and strength, a realization in the most profound 
way of what an artist's special function in life is. 

One might, with optimism, say that if James had been a poet 
instead of a novelist his consummate sense of this artistic re- 
sponsibility would not have been considered mere idiosyncrasy; 
the poet's duty is not only "to charge language with the maxi- 

The Question of Henry James 

mum degree of meaning" but to extract that meaning from the 
essential heart of the experience around and within him. But 
the fate of the poets who have tried, in any age, to do this has 
never been an easy one. In his early book on French Poets and 
Novelists James saw their ordeal in the nineteenth century and 
anticipated it in the twentieth. He was able to criticize Baude- 
laire without overlooking the fact that Baudelaire furnished a 
new morality and purpose to poets in an age that promised to 
confound and bewilder them by the fecundity and complexity 
of its literary resources. 

For James the salvation from such confusion lay precisely in 
that conquest of identity which he made the adventure of his 
focal heroes and heroines — Milly Theale, Maggie Verver, Lam- 
bert Strether. These people, living lives of emotional or social 
conformity, embody the modern sensibility surrounded by the 
external equipment of modern sophistication; they comprehend 
at once the splendors of tradition, the weight of inherited in- 
stinct and decorum, and the license of current liberalism. From 
this confusion of privileges each has to retreat, through ordeal 
and agony, to the final authority of selfhood. When that is at- 
tained, in triumph or in tragedy, the truth of life is at last dis- 
closed. Their problem, in different terms, is that of the modern 
poets who have written, out of lives of purer feeling or intel- 
lect, such poems as Sunday Morning, The Man Who Died 
Twice, The Waste Land, Hugh Selwyn Mobcrley, and The 
Tower — the rescue of personality from an excess of sophistica- 
tion, erudition, self-indulgence, and privilege. The antagonism 
of these forces is James's definition of the modern problem; it 
closely resembles Valery's, though it differs widely in the solu- 
tion he offers. He saw this predicament as an antagonism of in- 
telligent selfhood against the depersonalized scientific compre- 
hension of all things in their "unprejudiced identities." The lab- 
yrinth, for the writer, permits only one safe exploration — that 
guided by a man's complete and realized personality, to which 
all data "of experience must attach to gain meaning. Such mean- 
ing it is the artist's special duty to interpret and express, and 
James defined the poet as the artist who must express it with 
the highest authority. 


Morton D. Zabel 

The "taste" of the poet [a blessed comprehensive name for many 
of the things deepest in us] is, at bottom and so far as the poet in him 
prevails over everything else, his active sense of life: in accordance 
with which truth to keep one's hand on it is to hold the silver clue to 
the whole labyrinth of his consciousness. . . . The seer and speaker 
under the descent of the god is the "poet," whatever his form, and he 
ceases to be one only when his form, whatever else it may nominally 
or superficially or vulgarly be, is unworthy of the god: in which event, 
we promptly submit, he isn't worth talking of at all. 

Poets have seldom been honored, in any age, by as high a duty 
and as certain a dignity as this. 


. ti 


The Ambassadors 

[ 1944 ] 

THE AMBASSADORS, the first of James's three crowning 
works to be completed, has proved by far his most popular 
book with the critics. In this they have followed his lead, since 
he announced in the preface that it was "frankly, quite the best, 
'all round,' " of all his productions. He wrote it with gusto, de- 
claring to Howells as he felt his way into its composition in the 
summer of 1900, that it was "human, dramatic, international, 
exquisitely 'pure,' exquisitely everything. . . . My genius, I 
may even say, absolutely thrives/' Such fresh confidence carried 
into the texture of the book. After the strained virtuosity of 
The Awkward Age and The Sacred Fount, James expanded into 
a theme that was both opulent and robust. He expressed the 
mOod that had been phrased by Longfellow's brother-in-law, 
Tom Appleton: "All good Americans, when they die, go to 
Paris." Appleton was talking of the era directly after the Civil 
War, the era James had recorded in The American. But the 
mood was to persist, and for the next postwar period, for the 
generation of the 1920's, Paris was still the same "huge irides- 
cent" jewel it was for Strether, the symbol of liberation from 
every starved, inadequate background into life. 

What caused James's preference for the book was not its 
theme, but its roundness of structure. On the same grounds of 
M 'architectural' competence" his second favorite was The For- 
trait of a Lady. In The Ambassadors we have a fine instance of 
the experienced artist taking an external convention, and, in- 
stead of letting it act as a handicap, turning it to his own signal 
advantage. James had always been uneasy — as well he might 


F. O. Matthiessen 

have been! — with his age's demand for serialized fiction. But 
here for once he felt a great stimulus to his ingenuity, and he 
laid out his novel organically in twelve books, each of which 
could serve for a month's installment. His subject was well 
fitted to such treatment, since it consisted in Strether's gradual 
initiation into a world of new values, and a series of small cli- 
maxes could therefore best articulate this hero's successive dis- 
coveries. It is interesting to note also the suspense that James 
creates by the device of the delayed introduction of the chief 
characters in Strether's drama. 

The opening book at Chester, where Strcthcr, arriving from 
Liverpool to meet his friend Waymarsh, encounters first Maria 
Gostrey, is really a prologue that strikes the theme of Europe — 
the Europe of old houses and crooked streets which was also 
being stamped upon American imaginations by James's con- 
temporary, Whistler. The second book begins in London, and 
though Strcthcr is already started on his eager growth through 
fresh impressions, how far he still has to go is indicated by 
Maria's remark that the theater which he takes "for — compara- 
tively divine" is "impossible, if you really want to know." Dur- 
ing this conversation Chad Ncwsome's name is first casually in- 
troduced, and then followed by expertly swift exposition of the 
situation which Strcthcr has come out to rectify. But we don't 
see Chad himself for some time yet; Strcthcr must have his ini- 
tial taste of Paris, that "vast bright Babylon." As he stands in 
the Boulevard Malcshcrbcs looking up at the balcony of Chad's 
apartment, he recognizes in a flash, in the essence of Jamcsian 
revelation, that the life which goes on in such balanced and 
measured surroundings cannot possibly be the crude dissipation 
that Woollctt, Massachusetts, believes. His initiation has reached 
its crucial stage. 

Only at the end of this third book docs Chad himself appear, 
with a dramatic entrance into the back of Maria's and Strether's 
box at the Comcdie. In a neat instance of huw he could meet 
the devices of the serial, James has him sit there through the 
darkness of the act, with Strether intensely conscious of his pres- 
ence; and brings the two of them face to face in conversation 
not until after the play, at the beginning of book four. In that 

The Question of Henry James 

book Strether tactfully feels his way into friendship with Chad; 
and in the next he is introduced to Madame de Vionnet. It is 
significant that the declaration for life which was the seed of 
this novel flowers into its full form, as spoken by Strether to 
little Bilham, immediately after this introduction. The next 
two books concentrate on Strether 's developing relations with 
Madame de Vionnet, from his first call on her to his boldly 
flouting Woollett and taking her out to lunch. Before the end 
of this book, a little more than halfway through the novel, his 

y position and Chad's are reversed: Chad says he is willing to go 
home and it is Strether who now urges him to stay. 

Such conduct brings its swift retribution, with the arrival, 
in book eight, of the new ambassador, Mrs, Newsome's formi- 
dable daughter, Sarah Pocock, who has been sent to take over 
the duties of the wavering Strether. The portrait of the Pococks 
— Sarah, Jim, and Mamie — is one of James's triumphs in light- 
handed satire, in the manner he had mastered in Daisy Glider 
and had developed further in that lesser-known but delightful 
jeu d'esprit, The Reverberator. With the Pococks the cast is 
finally complete, and it is an astonishing tribute to James's skill 
that the most intensely realized presence in the novel is that of 

/ Mrs. Newsome, who never appears at all and yet looms mas- 
sively like "some particularly large iceberg in a cool blue north- 

I ern sea." 

The critical point in book nine is the announcement that 
Madame de Vionnet's daughter is to be married, which' leaves 
Strether, blind until now to the actual situation, with the grow- 
ing awareness that it must be Madame de Vionnet herself to 
whom Chad is somehow bound. The tenth bock moves rapidly 
to Sarah's being outraged at what she regards as Strcthcr's 
treachery to her mother, and to her ultimatum that her entour- 
age is leaving Paris. The eleventh book rises to the most effective 
climax of all, Strethcr's glimpse of Chad and Madame de Vion- 
net together on the river, and his long-delayed perception of 
their real relationship. What is left for the concluding book is 
his final interview with Madame de Vionnet, which James was 
inclined- to regard as the novel's "most beautiful and interest- 
ing" scene. Then, after a last talk with Chad, Strether faces 


F. O. Matthiessen 

with Maria what the whole experience has come to mean for 


What most concerned James in this structure was also his 
principal contribution to the art of the novel, his development 
in Strether of a center of consciousness. What Strcther sees is 
the entire content, and James thus perfected a device both for 
framing and for interpreting experience. All art must give the 
effect of putting a frame around its subject, in the sense that it 
must select a significant design, and, by concentrating upon it, 
thus empower us to share in the essence without being distracted 
by irrelevant details. James's device serves greatly to reinforce 
such concentration, since if every detail must be observed and 
analyzed by Strether, we obtain a heightened singleness of 
vision. We obtain both "the large unity" and "the grace of in- 
tensity" which James held to be the final criteria for a novel. 
His contribution here has been fully assessed by critics, and has 
been assimilated in varying degrees by many subsequent novel- 
ists. Indeed, some have gone so far as to declare The Ambassa- 
dors the most skillfully planned novel ever written. The chief 
reminder we need now is that there is a vast diflerence between 
James's method and that of the novels of "the stream of con- 
sciousness." That phrase was used by William James in his The 
Principles of Psychology, but in his brother's novels there is none 
of the welling up of the darkly subconscious life that has char- 
acterized the novel since Freud. James's novels are strictly novels 
of intelligence rather than of full consciousness; and in com- 
menting on the focus of attention that he had achieved through 
Strether, he warned against "the terrible fluidity of self-revela- 

What James saw in Strether was what made him want to 
write the novel, as his long notebook entry of 1S95 had elabo- 
rated. The idea that had come to him first was that of M an~~) 
elderly man who hasn't lived, hasn't at all, in the sense of sensa- 
tions, passions, impulses, pleasures. . . . He has never really en- 
joyed — he has lived only for duty and conscience . . . lived for 
effort, for surrender, abstention, sacrifice." James had begun at 
once to imagine the possibilities. He shied away at first from 
having the revelation come to his hero in Paris, on the grounds 



The Question of Henry James 

of being too expected and buna!. He wasn't absolutely certain 
that the man should be American: "he might be an English- 
man.'* But. as James went on to conceive the putative histories 
of men who had not lived, his hero's background became un- 
mistakable: "I can't make him a novelist — too like W. D. H. 
and too generally invrahemblablc. But I want him 'intellectual,' 
I want him fine, clever, literary almost: it deepens the irony, 
the tragedy. A clergyman is too obvious and use and otherwise 
impossible. A journalist, a lawyer — these men would in a man- 
ner have 'lived,' through their contact with life, with the com- 
plications and turpitudes and general vitality of mankind. A 
doctor— an artist too. A mere man of business — he's possible; 
but not of the intellectual grain that I mean. The Editor of a 
Magazine— that would come nearest: not at all of a newspaper. 
A Professor in a college would imply some knowledge of the 
lives of the young — though there might be a tragic effect in his 
seeing at the last that he hasn't even suspected what these lives 
might contain. They have passed by him — he had passed them 


The austerity and aloofness of the still unnamed Strether 
have by now determined him as unquestionably a New Eng- 
Iander. One aspect of his situation that James projected in his 
' notebook outline but did not use in the book was that his hero's 
blindness to passion should have caused him in the past to have 
misunderstood and so to have sacrificed some wild son or 
younger brother. But now all the sources of emotion, all the 
"influences and appeals" he had not reckoned with are to be 
brought home to him.tJames hit directly upon the situation he 
was to use, that of his hero's having come to Europe to bring 
back some young man whose family are anxious. "The idea of 
the tale," as he summed it up, was to consist then in "the rcvo- 

f* lution that takes place in the poor man" as he ranges himself 
unexpectedly fr du cute du jcunc hominc" James has already 

j conceived what sacrifice that will mean for his hero, that he 
will lose "the strenuous widow," whom he was to have mar- 

I ried, "and all the advantages attaching to her." "It is too late, 
too late now for him to live — but what stirs in him with a dumb 
passion- of desire, of I don't know what, is the sense that he may 

[22*] , 

F. O. Matthiessen 

have a little supersensual hour in the vicarious freedom of an- 
other." The signal omission from this outline is any mention of 
Madame de Vionnet. The transformation of that phrase, "of I 
don't know what/' into the richest source of Strether's awaken- 
ing is one token of how much James's final themes accrued by 
the years in which he let his imagination play over them before 
bringing them to completion. • 

The challenge to live, in its short initial form, had dwelt solely 
on the elderly man's warning — James stipulated his age as fifty- 
five — against the repetition of his mistake. James's immense 
elaboration of this challenge tells how much it meant to him. 
As Strethcr delivers it in Gloriani's garden, it becomes in fact 
the quintessential expression of a dominant theme that runs 
throughout James's work. A whole succession of his heroes and 
heroines had been possessed with the same desire. Roderick Hud- 
son's thirst for experience had been so violent that it had hurled 
him to destruction; but for Christopher Newman, who had re- 
tired from business in early middle life, and for Isabel Archer, 
just on the threshold of her twenties, there had seemed every 
possibility for the abundance Strcther had missed. All these 
characters were Americans for whom the symbol of abundance 
had been Europe, but a similar eagerness for liberation was to 
sciz.e upon some of James's European heroes — notably Hyacinth 
Robinson (of The Pri/iccss Casamass'nna) > who was finally 
crushed by the class divisions that had kept him from his desire, 
and Nick Dormer (of The Tragic Muse) , who had turned his 
back on a political career to live more intensely in the practice 
of art. Such is the recurrent pattern of James's novels, and the 
same theme could be followed through any number of his short 
stories, from the frustrated aspirations of Clement Searlc, "the 
passionate pilgrim" (1S71), down to the tragedy of the spirit- 
ual emptiness of John Marcher, in The Beast in the Jungle 
(1903), whose lot it was to have been the man "to whom noth- 
ing whatever was to happen." 

Strcther introduces into his version of this declaration for 
life a highly complex image, which serves to reveal his Puritan 
heritage. It is the image of life as a tin mold, be it plain or fluted 
or embossed, into which the "helpless jelly" of one's conscious- 



The Question of Henry James 

ness is poured by "the great cook." In this way Strether symbol- 
izes the illusion of free will: the form of the individual con- 
sciousness has been predetermined and limited, not, to be sure, 
by the Puritans* God, but by every force in the individual's 
background and environment. Yet Strether insists that we 
make the most of life by enjoying our illusion, that we should 
act as though we were free. James had already shown his con- 
cern with such a philosophical theme in The Portrait of a Lady, 
Isabel Archer, a daughter of the transcendental enlightenment, 
I was confident that the world, lay all before her, that she could 
make whatever fine choice she liked. James knew how wrong 
she was in that belief, and demonstrated that her every act was 
determined by her innocence, the willful eagerness, the generous 
but romantic blindness to evil that she had derived from her 
nineteenth-century American conditioning. 

James himself did not have the heritage of American Puri- 
tanism. He spoke of his not being a New Englandcr "as a danger 
after all escaped.*' He remarked also, "Boston is absolutely noth- 
ing to mc — I don't even dislike it." But to understand all the 
overtones with which he charged the imperative live, we must 
remember that his grandfather was an Irish Presbyterian. 
Against that background James's father was in revolt. Yet even 
as he responded to Emerson's rejection of the old restrictions, 
he found that philosopher dangerously limited by his refusal to 
reckon with Calvinism "as a fact at all" in his sublime superior- 
ity to evil. Most of Henry James Senior's own declarations, as 
he ripened into his version of Swedcnborgianism, were on the 
side of optimism and expansion. In that he proved himself a 
child of his age, but the strong residue of his concern with the 
nature of evil was to be transmitted to his sons, though ulti- 
mately more to the brooding novelist than to the hopeful philos- 

Yet Strether's declaration, except for its qualifying of free 
will, continues, essentially, the transcendental mood of libera- 
tion. What had proved so heartening to Emerson's contempo- 
raries was his insistence that life for Americans no longer needed 
to be starved. The most intense expression of that conviction, 
perhaps the most intense single passage in American writing, is 

F. O. Matthiessen 

Thoreau's development of a theme extraordinarily like Streth- 
er's. When Thorcau declared why he went to the woods, he, too, 
revealed the depth of the New England dread that a man might 
die without ever having lived. But Thoreau's will was in dy- 
namic response to the challenge, and he expressed his desire "to 
suck out all the marrow of life" in a series of physical images, 
the energy of which was quite beyond Strcther — or James. 

The relative attenuation of Strcther's desire, its passive rather 
than active scope, is one of the most striking consequences of 
James's own peculiar conditioning. No experimental child of 
the nineteenth century, not even John Stuart Mill, was brought Ji 
up more deliberately on a theory. That theory, as James dc- \ 

scribed it in Notes of a Son and Brother, sprang from his 
father's profound aversion to the narrow, competitive drives of 
American life. What he wanted for his sons was the greatest pos- 
sible range of spiritual experience — "spiritual," as Henry noted, 
was his father's "most living" word — before they should be 
limited by the dictates of a career. In fact, as Henry was humor- 
ously aware, his father carried his dread of their being circum- 
scribed to such lengths as to deplore their decision upon any 
career at all, and continued in the hope that they were instead 
"just to be something, something unconnected with specific 
doing, something free and uncommitted. . . ." 

Such a theory, could have resulted in utter dispersion in a 
group with less passion for ideas than the James family pos- 
sessed. But as it affected both the older boys, it induced a slow 
but richer ripening. It may well have caused some of William's 
early nervous tensions, as he struggled to find himself by turn- 
ing from painting to experimental science to medicine, and only 
finally to psychology and philosophy. But it meant that when 
he finally wrote his first book, at the age of forty-seven, in the 
same year as Henry's The Tragic Muse, he produced a master- 
piece, The Principles of Psychology. Henry's tensions were less 
apparent but extremely acute, and the more glimpses we catch 
of them, the more we perceive why a declaration like Strcther's 
spoke so much for himself as well. On the verge of manhood, 
the injury to his back that kept him from participating in the 
Civil War made him feel that his was the peculiar case of having 

The Question of Henry James 

to live inwardly at a time of "immense and prolonged outward- 
ness." For many years thereafter his health continued to be so 
precarious that he was afraid he might never be able to bring his 
expression of life to the fullness for which he longed, an anxiety 
which found its way into such a story of an artist's frustration 
as The Madonna of the Future. As he came through to middle 
age, he began to find stability, and though in his "summing up" 
he could recall that his twenties had been "a time of suffering so 
keen that that fact might seem to pin its dark colours to the 
whole period," nevertheless the dominant strain in his memories 
was quite other. He could feel at last the satisfaction of having 
"wanted to do very much what I have done, and success, if I 
may say so, now stretches back a tender hand to its younger 
brother, desire." 

But he was still to have many hours of his old anxiety, of 
feeling merely on the verge of completion. And though, unlike 
Strethcr, he had not been shut out from the opportunity for im- 
pressions of life, still he was to come back again and again to a 
central dilemma. He made his most complete declaration of it 
shortly after he had started to work for the stage. His advice 
to himself should be put beside Strether's advice to Bilham: 
"The upshot of all such reflections is that I have only to let my- 
self go. (So I have said to myself all my life — so I said to myself 
Jn the far-off days of my fermenting and passionate youth. Yet 
I have never fully done itJThe taste of it — of the need of it — 
rolls over me at times with commanding force: it seems the for- 
mula of my salvation, of what remains to me of a future. I am 
in full possession of accumulated resources — I have only to use 
them, to insist, to persist, to do something more, — to do much 
more, — than I have done. The way to do it — to affirm one's self 
sur la fin — is to strike as many notes, deep, full, and rapid, as 
one can. All life is — at my age, with all one's artistic soul the 
record of it — in one's pocket, as it were. Go on, my boy, and 
strike hard; have a rich and long St. Martin's Summer. Try 
everything, do everything, render everything — be an artist, be 
distinguished to the last." 

Another decade was to elapse before he was able to let himself 
go to his full extent, and to say finally the most that he had to 


F. O. Matthiessen 

say. His St. Martin's summer really began with The Ambas- 
sadors. It is notable that the two New England minds of his 
own generation with whom he had most enjoyed friendship 
during his Boston years were to come to equally late flowering. 
Henry Adams was not to write his Mo tit -Saint -Michel ami 
Chartres until he was past sixty-five and his Education until he 
was almost seventy. Wendell Holmes was to arrive at his full 
stature only after he reached the Supreme Court, at sixty-one, 
in the same year as The Ambassadors appeared. These other late 
harvests, along with those of the James brothers, are evidence 
against the current belief that American talents always burn 
themselves out after an early promise. They may indicate, too, 
that the older New England strain could come to valuable ex- 
pression, in the period of New England's cultural decline, only 
if it had the stamina to survive its arid surroundings and so 
mature at last the rich juices for which Adams in particular felt 
himself parched. 

What Strether awakened to in Paris was not unlike the aes- 
thetic experience that Adams came finally to know only as he 
discovered the beauty of the cathedrals. Strether keeps empha- 
sizing the importance of seeing, and we know that James him- 
self lived in large measure by his eyes. He developed very early 
the feeling that intense life concentrated itself into scenes of 
which he was the absorbed spectator. This was to mean that of 
the two types into which Yeats divides artists, those who, like 
Blake, celebrate their own immediate share in the energy that 
"is eternal delight," and those who, like Keats, give us a 
poignant sense of being separated from what they present, 
James belonged to the latter. He described his own early ro- 
mantic longing for "otherness" in terms very close to those 
Yeats was to use for Keats: 

I see a schoolboy when I think of him, 

With face and nose pressed to a sweet-shop window. . . . 

James said that in his childhood "to be other, other almost any- 
how, seemed as good as the probable taste of the bright com- 
pound wistfully watched in the confectioner's window, unat- 
tainable, impossible. . . ." His account, too, of the kind of 


The Question of Plenty James 

delight he took in his first "pedestrian gaping*' along Broadway 
delineates even more sharply the type to which he belonged. 
For at this very same time, in the early 1850'$, an incipient 
American poet had also been drinking in the sights of this same 
street. But Whitman was to make his poetry out of passionate 
identification with everything he saw, not out of detachment. 
James, on the other hand, came to believe that "the only form 
of riot or revel" his temperament would ever know would be 
that "of the visiting mind," and that he could attain the longed 
for "otherness" of the world outside himself only by imagina- 
tive projection which, by framing his vision, could give it per- 

What Strether sees is what James saw, the Europe ofjjie. 
tourist. But James conceived of seeing in a multiple sense, as 
an act of the inward even more than of the outward eye. An 
interesting chapter of cultural history could be written about 
the nineteenth century's stress on sight. When Emerson de- 
clared that "the age is ocular," and delighted in the fact that 
the poet is the seer, he was overwhelmingly concerned with the 
spiritual and not the material vision. But concern with the ex- 
ternal world came to mark every phase of the century's increas- 
ing closeness of observation, whether in such scientific achieve- 
ments as the lenses for the telescope and the microscope, or in 
the painters' new experiments with light, or in the determina- 
tion of the photographers and the realistic novelists to record 
every specific surface detail. Matthew Arnold was to note that 
"curiosity" had a good sense in French, but unfortunately only 
a bad one in English. James, an early convert to Arnold's cul- 
ture, set himself to prove the value of the furthest reaches of 
curiosity. The distance that he had traveled from Emerson may 
be measured by the fact that though both knew their chief sub- 
ject matter to be consciousness, the mind's awareness of its proc- 
esses, for Emerson that awareness reaffirmed primarily the moral 
laws. James was also a moralist, but aesthetic experience was 
primary for him, since uio\hrnv.6g meant perceptive. He had 
turned that double-edged word "seer" back to this world. As he 
said in the preface to The Ambassadors, "art deals with what we 
see, it -must first contribute full-handed that ingredient; it 


F. O. Matthiessen 

plucks its material, otherwise expressed, in the garden of life 
which material elsewhere grown is stale and uneatable." But 
what distinguished him from French naturalists and English 
aesthetes alike was that he never forgot the further kind of see- 
ing, the transcendent passage to the world behind appearance 
and beyond the senses. 

Emerson had exulted that the eye was "the best of painters," 
but h is poetry and prose were both woefully lacking in plastic 
"quafi^^Uamcs deliberately cultivated the skills of the painter, f^ 
The first^ form he had experimented with as a small boy was 
what he called in his reminiscences "dramatic, accompanied by 
pictorial composition," short scenes each followed by its illus- 
tration. At the time when William was working in Hunt's 
studio, Henry at seventeen had shown his own shy curiosity in 
sketching. And although he soon realized that he had no talent, 
and turned to fiction, "it was to feel, with reassurance, that the 
picture was still in essence one's aim." He was to continue to 
train his eye by means~of his long series of "portraits of places," 
wherein he followed the lead of Gautier and other Frenchmen 
who were bringing literature closer to the art of the Impres- 
sionists. He was finally to arrive at the explicit statement that 
he wanted such a story as The Coxon Fund to be "an Impres- 
sion — as one of Sargent's pictures is an impression." 

The perfected instance of his belief that the novelist should 
"catch the colour of life" is the way he initiates both Strcther ~ { 
and the reader into Paris. His accuracy of presentation is such 
that he can really suggest the quality of Chad's existence 
through the very look of his house, "its cold fair grey, warmed 
and polished a little by life." James makes such a magnificently 
functional ..use of his architectural details that his hero is per 
suaded — and thousands of his countrymen have had the same 
yearning belief — that the life which goes on behind those win- 
dows and that balcony must also be characterized by tact and 
taste, by "the fine relation of part to pare and space to space." 
And when Strcther throws to the winds all scruples as to what 
Mrs. Newsome would think, and invites Madame de Vionnet 
to lunch, James presents us with a fully achieved canvas: "How 
could he wish it to be lucid for others, for any one, that he, for 

The Question o£ Henry James 

the hour, saw reasons enough in the mere way the bright clean 
ordered water-side life came in at the open window? — the mere 
way Madame de Vionnet, opposite him over their intensely 
white table-linen, their omelette aux tomafes, their bottle of 
straw-colored Chablis, thanked him for everything almost with 
the smile of a child, while her grey eyes moved in and out of 
their talk, back to the quarter of the warm spring air, in which 
early summer had already begun to throb, and then back again 
to his face and their human questions. " 

Here he has come to the essence, not of Sargent's effects but 
of Renoir's, in the wonderful sense of open air; in the sensuous 
relish of all the surfaces, with exactly the right central spot of 
color in that omelette aux tomafes; in the exquisite play of light 
around his figures. And when James added a further accent, it 
made for the very kind of charm by which the Impressionists 
declared their art a release from stuffy manners as well as from 
stale techniques: Madame de Vionnet "was a woman who, be- 
tween courses, could be graceful with her elbows on the table. 
It was a posture unknown to Mrs. Newsome. . . ." 

James's cities, unlike Balzac's or Joyce's, focus on the invit- 
ing vistas presented to the well-to-do visitor. The very air of 
Strether's Paris has the taste "of something mixed with art, 
something that presented nature as a white-capped master- 
chef." But James was not ignorant of what he called "the huge 
collective life" going on beyond his charmed circle; and at the 
end, when Strether is meditating on Madame de Vionnet's suf- 
fering, he thinks too of the vast suffering Paris has witnessed, 
and senses in the streets their long ineradicable "smell of revo- 
lution, the smell of the public temper — or perhaps simply the 
smell of blood." Yet such omens arc black shadows looming 
only at the very edgo of James's pictures. What he chose to 
frame, specially selected though it is, takes on an intensity to 
the degree that he could realize the multiple kinds of seeing in 
which he had striven to perfect himself, and could demonstrate 
that he had mastered "the art of reflection" in both senses of 
that phrase — both as a projector of the luminous surfaces of 
life, and as an interpreter of their significance. Perhaps the most 
brilliant instance of this double skill in all James's work is the 


F. O. Matthiessen 

recognition scene on the river, a scene which reveals also his 
extraordinary awareness of how art frames experience. He took 
great delight in adapting plastic devices for a highly developed, 
wholly unexpected illustration of this aesthetic process. When 
Strether decides on a day in the country, what leads him there is 
his far-off memory "of a certain small Lambinet that had 
charmed him, long years before, at a Boston dealer's." It is in- 
teresting to recall that this nearly forgotten painter of scenes 
along the Seine was of the era of Rousseau and Daubigny, all of 
whom James noted as having been first shown to him in the 
early days by Hunt. 

On one plane, Strether's being drawn by art to nature to 
verify an old impression, shows the curious reversal of order in 
the modern sensibility. On another plane, as he dwells on how 
much a canvas, not expensive but far beyond his purse, had 
meant to him in the Tremont Street gallery, we have a sharp 
contrast between Strether's New England actuality and his long 
smothered French ideal. But James doesn't leave it at that. 
Strether's entire day progresses as though he had "not once over- 
stepped the oblong gilt frame." The whole scene was there, the 
clustered houses and the poplars and the willows: "it was Tre- 
mont Street, it was France, it was Lambinet." In the late after- 
.noon, as he sits at a village cafe overlooking a reach of the river, 
his landscape takes on a further interest. It becomes a Land- 
scape with Figures, as a boat appears around the bend, a man 
rowing, a lady with a pink parasol. There, in an instant, was 
"the lie in the charming affair." The skill with which James 
has held our eyes within his frame has so heightened the sig- 
nificance of every slight detail that such a recognition scene 
leaps out with the force of the strongest drama. 

What Strether has seen comes to him as a great shock, but it 
does not cause him to waver in his judgment of how much Chad 
has improved. What he is anxious about now is whether Chad 
is really worthy of what Madame de Vionnet has given him, 
and there are plenty of undeveloped hints at the close that he 
is not, that he is already restive, that he will not be happy per- 
manently without the business world, and that he may even 
soon be turning to a younger woman. What then finally is the 




The Question of Henry James 

/ positive content of Strether's challenge to Bilham? As far as 
that young painter is concerned, the possibilities seem very slight. 
His eye has taken in so much of the beautiful surface of Paris 
that his productive power has faltered before it; and though he 
is happy with his vision, his is certainly a mild version of the 
doctrine of being rather than of doing, w- 

What then of Strcther himself, what has he gained from his 
initiation? Waymarsh warned him at the outset that he was "a 
very attractive man," and Maria Gostrey says that he owes more 
to women than any man she ever saw. Yet when he encounters 
Gloriani, Strether is acutely conscious of his own "rather grey 
interior." He expresses his sense of the Italian sculptor's vitality 
through an image of the sexual jungle: he both admires and 
envies "the glossy male tiger, magnificently marked." How far 
James himself had advanced in his penetration into character 
may be instanced by his different handling of this same Gloriani 
in Roderick Hudson nearly thirty years before. There the 
worldly sculptor had been somewhat cheap in his sophistication 
as he played the role of a Mephistophelcs to Roderick's Faust. 
But now James suggests an unfathomable depth of "human ex- 
pertness" in his eyes, an enormous fund of "terrible" energy 
behind his smile. * " 

It is revelatory of the careful pattern that James worked out 
in The Ambassadors to note the sequence of events in this cru- 
cial scene in Gloriani's garden. As he first takes in the beauty of 
his surroundings in the heart of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, 
Strether reflects to Bilham: "You've all of you here so much 
visual sense that you've somehow all 'run' to it. There arc mo- 
ments when it strikes one that you haven't any other." Almost 
at once thereafter Strcther is presented to Madame de Vionnet, 
and when she moves on after a few moments' conversation, he 
faces Bilham with his declaration for life. This, in turn, he fol- 
lows with his expressed envy of Gloriani. None of these connec- 
tions are made explicit, a sign that James's way of creating 
Madame de Viorinet's charm is to render it more pervasive in its 
operation than anything he says about it. Before the close of this 
scene he remarks that Strether is the kind of man who receives 
"an amount of experience out of any proportion to his adven- 

F. O. Matthiessen 

> tures." That, we recall, is what James also rejoiced over in his 
preface, that in Strether he had had his full chance "to 'do* a 
man of imagination." 

But what docs Strether finally make of his experience? The 
issue at the close shows how rigorously James believed that an 
author should hold to his structure. He had posited his hero's 
sense that it was too^ late, _ for him to live; and had reinforced 
this with Strcther's New England scrupulosity that in siding 
with Chad his conscience could be clear, since there was to be 
"nothing in it for himself." And no matter how bcwilderingly 
iridescent he finds the jewel-image of Paris, since "what seemed * 
all surface one moment seemed all depth the next," Strether 
never loses his moral sense. James seems to have taken his own 
special pleasure in avoiding the banal by not making Paris the 
usual scene of seduction but instead the center of an ethical 
drama. Another aspect of the structure — and its most artificial 
— is the role of ficelle conceived for Maria Gostrey. She exists 
only as a confidante for Strether, only as a means of letting him 
comment on his experience. Consequently, as James himself 
noted, she had a "false connexion" with the plot which he had i 
to bend his ingenuity to make appear as a real one. But his 
device of having her fall in love with Strether and hope wist- 
fully to marry him docs not achieve such reality. ^ 

It serves rather to exaggerate the' negative content of Strcth- 
er's renunciation. JHeJias come at last, as he says, to see Mrs., 

, Newsome, and we know by now how much is involved in that 
word. But hejeaves Paris and Maria to go back to no prospect 
of life at all. We arc confronted here with what will strike us 
.much more forcibly in The Golden Bowl, the contrast in James 
between imputed and actual values. The burden of The Ambas- 
sadors is that Strether has awakened to a wholly new sense of 
life. Yet he^docs nothing at all to fuliill thatjehse. Therefore, 
fond as JameV-is-of him, we cannot help feeling' fiis relative, 
emptines^. At times, even, as when James describes how "he 
went to Rouen with a little handbag and inordinately spent the 
night," it is forced upon us that, despite James's humorous 
awareness of the inadequacy of his hero's adventures, neither 
Strether nor his creator escape a certain ..sof Li.ussiness. 




The Question of Henry James 

What gives this novel the stamina to survive the dated flavor 
of Strether's liberation is the quality that James admired most 
in Turgenev, the ability to endow some of his characters with 
such vitality that they seem to take the plot into their own 
hands, or rather, to continue to live beyond its exigencies. The 
center of that vitality here is the character not reckoned with 
in James's initial outline. For what pervades the final passages is 
Strether's unacknowledged' love for Madame de Vionnet. James 
has succeeded in making her so attractive that, quite apart from 
the rigid requirement of his structure, there can really be no 
question of Strether's caring deeply for any other v/oman. The 
means that James used to evoke her whole way of life -is a su- 
preme instance of how he went about to give concrete embodi- 
> ment to his values. Just as he devoted the greatest care to the 
•/ I surroundings for Strether's declaration and explicitly drew on 
/ his own memories of the garden behind the house where Madame 

Recamier had died, so he created Madame de Vionnet entirely 
in terms of and inseparable from old Paris'. Every distinction 
in her -manner is related to Strether's impression of her house, 
where each chair and cabinet suggests "some glory, some pros- 
perity of the First Empire, some Napoleonic glamour, some dim 
lustre of the great legend." Iri_ his "summing up" James had 
attempted to convey why the great Englisn houses had grown 
to mean so much to him, It was primarily their "accumulations 
of expression": "on the soil over which so much has passed, and 
out of which so much has come," they-- 8 rose before me like a 
series of visions. ... I thought of stories, of drama, of all the 
life of the past — of things one can hardly speak of; speak of, I 
mean at the time. It is art that speaks of those things; and the 
idea makes me adore her more and moreJJ--- 

That gives us insight into why James, to a greater degree than 
any other American artist, was a spokesman-- for the imagination 
as a conserving force; He believed that art is the great conserver, 
since it alone can give permanence to the more perishable order 
of society. Yet, despite the usual view of him, James dwelt very 
little in the past. His impressions and his reading were prepon- 
derantly, almost oppressively, contemporary. His one living tap- 
root to the past was through his appreciation of such an ex- 


F. O. Matthiessen 

quisite product of tradition as Madame dc Vionnet. Yet, as he 
created her, she was the very essence of the aesthetic sensibility 
of his own day. Strether can hardly find enough comparisons for 
her splendor. Her head is like that on "an old precious medal 
of the Renaissance." She is "a goddess still partly engaged in a 
morning cloud," or "a sca-nymph waist-high in the summer 
surge." She is so "various and multifold" that he hardly needs 
to mention Cleopatra. And though Mona Lisa is not mentioned, 
James is evoking something very like Pater's spell. Although 
James's moral residues are considerably different from Pater's, 
both Strether and James could have subscribed to much of 
Pater's famous exhortations for fullness of life, particularly to 
the sentence which urges that one's passions should yield "this 
fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness." 

But Madame de. Vionnet is more human than Pater's evoca- 
tion. On the last night that Strether sees her, she seems older, 
"visibly less exempt from the touch of time." And though she 
is still "the finest and subtlest creature" he has ever met, she is, 
even as Shakespeare's Cleopatra, troubled like "a maid servant 
crying for her young man." In an image which enables him to 
fuse the qualities with which he especially wants to endow her, 
James makes Strether think that her dress of "simplest coolest 
white" is so old-fashioned "that Madame Roland must on the 
scaffold have worn something like it." Madame de Vionnet's 
end is also to be tragic. She has learned from life that no real 
happiness comes from taking: "the only safe thing is to give." 
Such a nature is far too good for. Chad, and she realizes now 
that "the only certainty" for the future is that she will be "the 
,loser in the end." Her positive suffering and loss are far more 
affecting than Strether's tenuous renunciation. 


, r^ 


The Golden Bowl 
[ m* ] 

; "]pHE GOLDEN BOWL is extremely simplified, because there 
J- are only four main characters and two subsidiary choric 
figures, and no one else is of the slightest importance. The 
key to the situation is the fact that there are, in effect, before 
the action begins, two original groupings. Maggie is the com- 
panion of her father, Mr. Verver, and they live together in 
their relationship always gaily referred to as their marriage. 
Meanwhile, unknown to them, their two future sposi — as they 
are always called — Amerigo, the prince, and Charlotte, an ad- 
venturous, moneyless, "wonderful" friend of Maggie, arc hav- 
ing their little affair. The leading choric character, Mrs. As- 
singham, now steps in and breaks up the grouping from AB, 
CD — Maggie, Mr. Verver; the prince, Charlotte; into AC, BD. 
The prince marries Maggie. Maggie is now deeply conscious of 
the loneliness of her father, and her father is also conscious 
that her concern for him may not be best for her marriage. 
Meanwhile, Charlotte returns from America, and, just before 
the wedding, she walks through Mayfair with the prince, where, 
in a curio shop, they look at the golden bowl with a flaw in it, 
which they discuss, but decide not to buy, for Maggie's wed- 
ding present. After the marriage, Charlotte stays with the 
Ververs, and then Mr. Verver takes her to Brighton, and pro- 
poses to her. They marry, and soon after the marriage, the 
prince and Charlotte start living together. Thus, after a transi- 
tion, in 'which the figures are AC, BD, we return to the original 
order AB, CD. The dramatic climax of the book is Maggie's 
passionate fight to restore the order of the marriages, which she 

Stephen Spender 

at last succeeds in doing. Thus the book falls into this sort of 
pattern: — 

Spectators AB CD 

The Golden Bowl 

The major and 

Fanny AC BD 



The Golden Bowl 


The major and Fanny 

This symmetry symbolizes the social order. 

The golden bowl with its flaw represents, of course, the flaw 
in the order of their lives. 

The moral problem in the book is extremely important. It 
is not merely a struggle between the injured and duped father 
and child and the strident, aristocratic, sensual lovers, who are 
living on the money of the weaker couple, which would re- 
semble the situation of The Wiftgs of the Dove. There is a far 
deeper conflict, between the two kinds of marriage, the spiritual 
and the platonic. Maggie will not abandon her father: the in- 
jury done to the sposi is that the marriages have been arranged — 
Maggie's in part, Mr. Verver's entirely — simply in order to im- 
prove the relationship of the father and daughter. Mrs. Assing- 
ham, who arranges the first marriage, knows that in providing 
his daughter with a prince, she is also providing Mr. Vcrver with 
an invaluable "piece" for his collection. Moreover, the father 
and daughter agree that their life is too closed in, too selfish, 
that they see too little of the world, that they are altogether 
lacking in free air and large experience, and Maggie's marriage 
presents an excellent way out. 

Both marriages having been made, the father and daughter 
continue to see a good deal of each other, so it follows that step- 
mother and son-in-law are also thrown together. Moreover, the 
platonic relationship of the daughter and father not only com- 
petes with the relationship of Charlotte dnd Amerigo; it also 
affects a third concurrent relationship, which is the sexual life 
of each party with his or her marriage partner. The platonicism 
of the father and daughter evidently creeps into their marriages. 
Charlotte suffers most from this, because her husband is in any 


The Question of Henry James 

case an old man; and although the suggestion that he is wonder- 
fully young is bravely kept up — it becomes part of the system 
of the book — he cannot have a child. Maggie has a child — the 
Principino — but she does not satisfy her pleasure-loving Italian 
husband. He is politely but infinitely bored by the Ververs. 
Finally, Maggie is passionately and deeply in love with the 
prince: like Cordelia, she recognizes that her love for her hus- 
band is deeper even than that for her father; to that extent the 
marriage is not in the least a marriage of convenience. 

Thus, the moral problem much more decisively demands an 
answer in this than in any other book of James. Maggie is not 
in the position of Milly or Strcther, who have only to live ac- 
cording to their lights, and then to lose everything. In James's 
other books he has convinced us that a part of life, of the real 
life of a human being, as apart from the performance of an 
automaton, is the power to choose to die. The question James 
has not yet answered is whether it is possible in the modern 
world to choose to live: and Maggie triumphantly answers it 
for him. 

Her answer takes her far beyond the aesthetics of behavior, 
although, like all James's characters, she is deeply concerned 
with these. She lives and saves the situation by the force of her 
patience, her generosity, and her love. Twice she affirms a faith 
that is also her policy. Once to Mrs. Assingham, who, being the 
original matchmaker, unifies the sense of moral responsibility 
which weighs on all the characters. 

"Maggie thoughtfully shook her head. 'No; I'm not terrible, 
and you don't think me so. I do strike you as surprising, no 
doubt — but surprisingly mild. Because — don"t you see? — I am 
mild. I can bear anything.' 

" 'Oh, "bear"!' Mrs. Assingham fluted. 

" 'For love,' said the Princess. 

"Fanny hesitated. 'Of your father?' 

" 'For love,' Maggie repeated. 

"It kept her friend watching. *Of your husband?' 

" 'For love,* Maggie said again.". 

Once more, at the end of the book, Maggie reaffirms her 
declaration, this time to her. father, when in their most wonder- 


Stephen Spender 

ful confabulation the father and daughter, without ever betray- 
ing their loyalty to their marriages, or revealing to each other 
their knowledge of the intrigue between Charlotte and the 
prince, reveal only, indeed, their anxious tenderness for each 
other, their unshaken belief in each other, and that their under- 
standing went deeper than anything which they need say. 

"My idea is this, that when you only love a little you're nat- 
urally not jealous — or are only jealous also a little, so that it 
doesn't matter. But when you love in a deeper and intenser way, 
then you arc, in the snme proportion, jealous; your jealousy has 
intensity and, no doubt, ferocity. When, however, you love in 
the most abysmal and unutterable way of all — why, then you're 
beyond everything, and nothing can pull you down." 

The scene of The Golden Bowl is the most ambitious James 
ever attempted, and the first half of the book, allotted to the 
prince, does really little more than construct the vast stage on 
which his drama is enacted. That stage is set in England, but 
upon it meet America and Italy. Italy is represented by Amerigo, 
so that his ancestry recalls the greatness and the crimes of the 
Empire. America, with all its wealth and all its innocence, is 
Adam Verver and his daughter. 

Set against this great historical and geographical tradition, 
there is the strangely insulated, shut-off life of the actors. The 
two married couples, on this immense stage, in their admired 
and plausible surroundings, are yet living a life which is gro- 
tesquely at odds with their happy setting of envied appear- 
ances, and unsuitcd to the standards of the tradition to which 
they arc trying to conform. They arc perpetually at the cdgQ 
of something quite sordid: of the divorce court, the reported 
evidence of servants, and love letters printed in the news. The 
struggle of the Vervcrs is a struggle to make the picture fit the 
frame; they are constantly struggling to make their lives 
worthy of their dead surroundings. 

They are handicapped in this endeavor by two psychological 
difficulties. The first is that the Vervcrs are absorbed in their 
own private life, whereas the people they marry are, in a mod- 
ern, almost a journalistic sense, suited to the public life. The 
Ververs are a lovable, cozy pair of very simple, very clever peo- 

The Question of Henry James 

pie who are immensely rich. It is emphasized throughout the 
book that everything about them is, by mere contrast with their 
huge setting, very small. Their virtues are a human understand- 
ing which does not extend beyond the individuals immediately 
around them, an immense personal tenderness, and a love which 
hardly reaches further than each other and the pair whom they 
marry. The word "small" is constantly associated with Maggie, 
and it is she who in one of her moments of greatest exaltation 
realizes that her father was "simply a great and deep and high 
little man, and that to love him with tenderness was not to be 
distinguished, a whit, from loving him with pride." One re- 
members him always, with his dim smile, his quiet, very youth- 
ful manner, in the unassuming little scene; gazing at a "piece" 
in his collection, or wandering vaguely about his garden. On 
the other hand, everything about Charlotte and the prince is 
on the grand scale. As Maggie says when she recommends Char- 
lotte to her father, "I may be as good, but I'm not so great — 
and that's what we're talking about. She has a great imagination. 
She has, in every way, a great attitude. She has above all a great 

Secondly, Charlotte, being so great, consistently underesti- 
mates Maggie's intelligence. It is, then, this failure of Charlotte's 
own intelligence which produces the crack in their situation 
which requires so much understanding and courage to repair. In 
James's world, a failure of intelligence — that is to say, of intel- 
ligence in life — may amount to a moral failing. But Maggie's 
behavior shows that it does not follow that intelligence alone 
is morality: for it is Maggie's love that saves the marriages. 

What most lives in one's memory of The Golden Bowl is the 
pattern of monologue contrasted with certain unforgettable 
scenes. Especially a few of the scenes, such as the ironic scene 
in which the prince and Charlotte meet on their vow to care 
for his wife and her husband. 

*' 'It's sacred,' he said at last. 

° 'It's sacred,' she breathed back to him. They vowed it, gave 
it out and took it in, drawn, by their intensity, more closely 
together. Then of a sudden, through this tightened circle, as 
at the issue of a narrow strait into the sea beyond, everything 


Stephen Spender 

broke up, broke down, gave way, melted and mingled. Their 
lips sought their lips, their pressure their response and their re- 
sponse their pressure; with a violence that had sighed itself the 
next moment to the longest and deepest of stillnesses they pas- 
sionately scaled their pledge.' 7 

Again, there is the scene in the carriage, where Maggie tries 
to protest to her husband, and when she detects how he uses his 
sensuality to silence her: "He put his arm round her and drew 
her close — indulged in the demonstration, the long, firm em- 
brace by his single arm, the infinite pressure of her whole person 
to his own, that such opportunities had so often suggested and 

But the most extraordinary scenes of all are those with Char- 
lotte at the end of the book. They follow on that very remark- 
able climax when Mrs. Assingham deliberately throws down 
and smashes the golden bowl, which Maggie has accidentally 
bought from the shop in Mayfair: and bought with it, too, the 
knowledge that Charlotte and her husband were deeply intimate 
before her marriage. The prince comes into the room, and just 
because he is let off having to explain, he learns all the more 
clearly that Maggie knows, has always known, and also that 
she does not require any explanation. This is the first step in his 
conversion to Maggie, and he marks it by not telling Charlotte 
that Maggie knows: thus Charlotte is in the dark, and Maggie 
and the prince are together, as it were, in the light of Maggie's 
generosity. The ground is thus elaborately prepared for the de- 
scription of that terrible evening when Charlotte, "the splendid 
shining supple creature was out of the cage, was at large." James 
is at his most prodigious in the description of the meeting of the 
two women, and of the high spirit with which Maggie tells her 
wonderful lie, denying that Charlotte has done her any injury, 
and thus keeping her compact of silence with the prince. "They 
were keeping together thus, he and she, close, close together — 
whereas Charlotte, though rising there radiantly before her, was 
really off in some darkness of space that would steep her in soli- 
tude and harass her with care." But the scene ends with Char- 
lotte's triumph, for the nature of Maggie's victory is precisely 
in letting Charlotte enjoy her own value, which is greatly to 


The Question of Henry James 

triumph. On this occasion the triumph is in the form o£ a public 
embrace: "But there was something different also, something 
for which, while her cheek received the prodigious kiss, she had 
her opportunity — the sight of the others, who, having risen 
from their cards to join the absent members of their party, had 
reached the open door at the end of the room and stopped short, 
evidently, in presence of the demonstration that awaited them." 

This scene, as though it demands an encore, is followed by 
a parallel scene in the daytime, when Maggie goes out into the 
garden on the excuse of taking Charlotte a book which she had 
forgotten. Here again the patient and loving resolve of Mr. 
Verver, who has now played his part in deciding that he and 
Maggie must separate and that he must go with his wife to 
America, is made part of Charlotte's indignant triumph. 

These scenes, in their vast, resonant setting, and extending 
into variations in Maggie's thought, have the air of those sur- 
realhtc paintings in which one islanded, accurate object, per- 
haps a house, or a fragment of ruined stone wall, is seen against 
an empty background which seems perhaps to be the whole sea, 
or the whole sky, or the whole of space. 

For the monologues dip into an abyss where they become part 
of the unconscious mind of Europe. They arc written in a lan- 
guage in which one loses oneself among imagery which is poetry, 
but which has not the rhythm or the diction of a writer who is 
completely a poet. The particular effects in The Golden Bowl 
fail; but the total effect of the book is as striking as the third 
movement — the "Heiliger Dankgesang" — of Beethoven's Quar- 
tet in A Minor, Opus 130. In that movement, the drawn-out, 
religious harmonics arc contrasted with the two islands of fever- 
ish dramatic ecstasy, which they enclose, like an endless, calm 

Throughout The Golden Bowl the descriptive passages delib- 
erately suggest vast spaces opening out into mystery and vague- 
ness. "This love of music, unlike his other loves, owned to 
vagueness, but, while, on his comparatively shaded sofa, and 
smoking, smoking, always smoking, in the great Fawns draw- 
ing-room as everywhere, the cigars of his youth, rank with as- 
sociations — while, I say, he so listened to Charlotte's piano, 


Stephen Spender 

where the score was never absent, but, between the lighted can- 
dles, the picture distinct, the vagueness spread itself about him 
like some boundless carpet, a surface delightfully soft to the 
pressure of his interest." Here Mr. Verver is set like a little 
island against his sea of vagueness. 

It is from this deliberately conjured atmosphere that there 
arise, as from the depths, the dream images of the unconscious. 
Too often these images, not being ordered by metric, almost 
overwhelm the reader, swamping all other associations, and 
making him forget the story. "She might fairly, as she watched 
them, have missed it as a lost thing: have yearned for it, for the 
straight vindictive view, the rights of resentment, the rages of 
jealousy, the protests of passion, as for something she had been 
cheated of not least: a range of feelings which for many women 
would have meant so much, but which for her husband's wife, 
for her father's daughter, figured nothing nearer to experience 
than a wild eastern caravan, looming into view with crude col- 
ours in the sun, fierce pipes in the air, high spears against the 
sky, all a thrill, a natural joy to mingle with, but turning off 
short before it reached her and plunging into other defiles." Be- 
fore we have fully recovered, in the same paragraph, Maggie has 
another vision: one which, in the story, is of far greater sig- 
nificance than the first, because of the light in which it pre- 
sents Charlotte: "She saw at all events why horror itself had 
almost failed her; the horror that, foreshadowed in advance, 
would, by her thought, have made everything that was unac- 
customed in her cry out with pain; the horror of finding evil 
seated, at ail its case, where she had dreamed only of good; the 
horror of the thing hideously behind, behind so much trusted, 
so much pretended, nobleness, cleverness, tenderness." 

It is the feeling of horror, of foreboding before some calamity, 
that never fails, and that sometimes produces a poetry so pure 
and so dreadfully true of our whole situation, that it reaches 
far beyond the "small despair" of the Ververs. One such passage 
occurs in the scene between Maggie and Fanny Assingham, just 
after Maggie has bought the golden bowl. Fanny conceals what 
she knows from Maggie, for to relax the tension in Maggie's 
spirit would be the signal for her to collapse and despair: what 


The Question of Henry James 

she knows about her husband she has to learn through her own 
suffering, so that she learns also the way out. "Though ignorant 
still of what she had definitely met, Fanny yearned, within, over 
her spirit; and so, no word about it said, passed, through mere 
pitying eyes, a vow to walk ahead and, at cross roads, with a 
lantern for the darkness and wavings away for unadvised traffic, 
look out for alarms." 

It is such passages in James, which in their use of imagery de- 
rived from everyday life, predict the best in modern poetry. But 
the feeling of a horror that is entirely modern, is emphasized 
even more strongly, in the passages which describe the mental 
suffering of Maggie. When Maggie first tries to explain her posi- 
tion to Mrs. Assingham, she says: "If I'm jealous — don't you 
see? — I'm tormented, and all the more if I'm helpless. And if 
I'm both helpless and tormented I stuff my pocket-handkerchief 
into my mouth, I keep it there, for the most part, night and 
day, so as not to be heard too indecently moaning." 

Nor is this account of her torture any mere figure of speech. 
In her great scene with Charlotte, when Charlotte had tri- 
umphed, we are told: "Oh, the 'advantage,' it was perfectly 
enough, in truth, with Mrs. Verver; for what was Maggie's own 
sense but that of having been thrown over on her back, with her 
neck, from the first, half broken and her helpless face staring 
up?" Maggie suffocates, she has for ever the sense of "the beast 
at her throat." 

Nor is it only Maggie who endures these horrors. They pur- 
sue Charlotte, and one of the really terrifying moments is the 
description of Charlotte's lecture to some visitors on her hus- 
band's collection. 

". . . 'The largest of these three pieces has the rare peculi- 
arity that the garlands, looped round it, which, as you see, are 
the finest possible vieux Saxc. . . .' 

"So the high voice quavered, aiming truly at effects far over 
the heads of gaping neighbours. . . . Maggie meanwhile, at the 
window, knew the strangest thing to be happening: she had 
turned suddenly to crying, or was at least on the point of it — 
the lighted square before her all blurred and dim. The high 
voice went on; its quaver Was doubtless for conscious ears only, 


Stephen Spender 

but there were verily thirty seconds during which it sounded, 
for our young woman, like the shriek of a soul in pain." 

The horror then pursues the prince: he has his own agonized 
way of sitting in his room and reading the newspapers, Figaro 
and the Times, 

When one considers these examples, one begins to feel certain 
that beneath the stylistic surface, the portentous snobbery, the 
golden display of James's work, there lurk forms of violence 
and chaos. His technical mastery has the perfection of frightful 
balance and frightful tension: beneath the stretched-out com- 
positions there are abysses of despair and disbelief: Ulysses and 
The Wciste Land. 

What after all do these images of suffocation, of broken 
necks, of wailing suggest but a collection of photographs of the 
dead and wounded during the Great War? We remember his 
phrase, made in 191 5: "to have to take it all now for what the 
treacherous years were all the while really making for and 
meaning, is too tragic for any words." 


, * 


At the Grave of Henry James 
[ 1943 ] 

jl HE snow, less intransigeant than their marble, 
Has left the defence of whiteness to these tombs; 

For all the pools at my feet 
Accommodate blue now, and echo such clouds as occur 
To the sky, and whatever bird or mourner the passing 

Moment remarks they repeat 

While the rocks, named after singular spaces 
Within which images wandered once that caused 

All to tremble and offend, 
Stand here in an innocent stillness, each marking the spot 
Where one more series of errors lost its uniqueness 

And novelty came to an end. 

To whose real advantage were such transactions 
When worlds of reflection were exchanged for trees? 

What living occasion can 
Be just to the absent? O noon but reflects on itself, 
And the small taciturn stone that is the only witness 

To a great and talkative man 

Has no more judgment than my ignorant shadow 
Of odious comparisons or distant clocks 

Which challenge and interfere 
With the heart's instantaneous reading of time, time that is 
A warm enigma no longer in you for whom I 

Surrender my private cheer. 


W. H. Auden 

Startling the awkward footsteps of my apprehension, 
The flushed assault of your recognition is 

The clonncc of this doubtful hour: 
O stern proconsul of intractable provinces, 
O poet of the difficult, dear addicted artist, 

Assent to my soil and flower. 

As I stand awake on our solar fabric, 

That primary machine, the earth, which gendarmes, banks, 

And aspirin prc-suppose, 
On which the clumsy and sad may all sit down, and any who 

Say their a-ha to the beautiful, the common locus 

Of the master and the rose. 

Our theatre, scaffold, and erotic city 

Where all the infirm species are partners in the act 

Of encroachment bodies crave, 
Though solitude in death is dc rigueur for their flesh 
And the self-denying hermit flies as it approaches 

Like the carnivore to a cave. 

That its plural numbers may unite in meaning, 
Its vulgar tongues unravel the knotted mass 

Of the improperly conjunct, 
Open my eyes now to its hinted significant forms, 
Sharpen my cars to detect amid its brilliant uproar 

The low thud of the defunct. 

O dwell, ironic at my living centre, 

Half ancestor, half child; because the actual self 

Round whom time revolves so fast 
Is so afraid of what its motions might possibly do 
That the actor is never there when his really important 

Acts happen. Only the past 

Is present, no one about but the dead as, 
Equipped with a few inherited odds and ends, 
One after another we are 


The Question of Henry James 

Fired into life to seek that unseen target where all 
Our equivocal judgments are judged and resolved in 
One whole Alas or Hurrah. 

And only the unborn remark the disaster 

When, though it makes no difference to the pretty airs 

The bird of Appetite sings, 
And Amour Propre is his usual amusing self, 
Out from the jungle of an undistinguished moment 

The flexible shadow springs. 

Now more than ever, when torches and snare-drum 
Excite the squat women of the saurian brain 

Till a milling mob of fears 
Breaks in insultingly on anywhere, when in our dreams 
Pigs play on the organs and the blue sky runs shrieking 

As the Crack of Doom appears, 

Are the good ghosts needed with the white magic 
Of their subtle loves. War has no ambiguities 

Like a marriage; the result 
Required of its affaire fatale is simple and sad, 
The physical removal of all human objects 

That conceal the Difficult. 

Then remember me that I may remember 
The test we have to learn to shudder for is not 

An historical event, 
That neither the low democracy of a nightmare nor 
An army's primitive tidiness may deceive me 

About our predicament. 

That catastrophic situation which neither 
Victory nor defeat can annul; to be 

Deaf yet determined to sing, 
To be lame and blind yet burning for the Great Good Place, 
To be radically corrupt yet mournfully attracted 

By the Real Distinguished Thing. 


W. H. Auden 

And shall I not specially bless you as, vexed with 
My little inferior questions, today I stand 

Beside the bed where you rest 
Who opened such passionate arms to your Don when It ran 
Towards you with its overwhelming reasons pleading 

All beautifully in Its breast? 

O with what innocence your hand submitted 
To these formal rules that help a child to play, 

While your heart, fastidious as 
A delicate nun, remained true to the rare noblesse 
Of your lucid gift and, for its own sake, ignored the 

Resentful muttering Mass 

Whose ruminant hatred of all which cannot 
Be simplified or stolen is still at large; 

No death can assuage its lust 
To vilify the landscape of Distinction and see 
The heart of the Personal brought to a systolic standstill, 

The Tall to diminished dust. 

Preserve me, Master, from its vague incitement; 
Yours be the disciplinary image that holds 

Me back from agreeable wrong 
And the clutch of eddying muddle, lest Proportion shed 
The alpine chill of her shrugging editorial shoulder 

On my loose impromptu song. 

Suggest; so may I segregate my disorder 
Into districts of prospective value: approve; 

Lightly, lightly, then, may I dance 
Over the frontier of the obvious and fumble no more 
In the old limp pocket of the minor exhibition, 

Nor riot with irrelevance. 

And no longer shoe geese or water stakes, but 
Bolt in my day my grain of truth to the barn 
Where tribulations may leap 


The Question of Henry James 

With their long-lost brothers at last in the festival 
Of which not one has a dissenting image, and the 

Flushed immediacy sleep. 

Into this city from the shining lowlands 
Blows a wind that whispers of uncovered skulls 

And fresh ruins under the moon, 
Of hopes that will not survive the secoiisse of this spring 
Of blood and flames, of the terror that walks by night and 

The sickness that strikes at noon. 

All will be judged. Masters of nuance and scruple, 
Pray for me and for all writers living or dead; 

Because there are many whose works 
Are in better taste than their lives; because there is no end 
To the vanity of our calling: make intercession 

For the treason of all clerks. 

Because the darkness is never so distant, 

And there is never much time for the arrogant 

Spirit to flutter its wings, 
Or the broken bone to rejoice, or the cruel to cry 
For Him whose property is always to have mercy, the author 
And giver of all good things. 



Henry James 

(From an ument letter to Charles Du Bos) 


F j E lets only just enough steam escape to run his engine 
L A ahead, from page to page: and I do not believe that econ- 
omy, that reserve, has ever sagaciously been carried further. The 1 
proportion remains perfect between the propulsive force and 
the drawing out of the narrative. No wonder, since nothing 
really alive nourishes him, and James only extracts from his j 
brain what he knows to be there, and what his intelligence alone I 
has put there. The interest is never in the outpouring, but is 
solely in the conduit. His work is like that of the spider, who 
ceaselessly widens her web by hanging new threads from one 
chosen support to another. Doubtless I shall praise him for tak- 
ing his stand always on the same data of a problem. The skill- 
fully made network spun out by his intelligence captivates only • 
the intelligence: the intelligence of the reader, the intelligence 
of the heroes of his books. The latter seem never to exist except 
in the functioning of their intellects, they arc only winged V / 
busts; all the weight of the flesh is absent, and all the shaggy, 
tangled undergrowth, all the wild darkness. . . . 

Another thing: these characters never live except in relation 
to each other, in the functioning of these relations: they are ^ #• 
desperately mundane; I mean by this that there is nothing of * / 
the divine in them, and that intelligence always explains what 
makes them act or vibrate. I do not feel so much that the author 
is snobbish as profane: yes, profane, incurably so. To tell the "% 
truth, he does not interest me at all; or rather, it is his vie tier _j t 
that interests me, his metier only, the prodigious virtuosity. But 


The Question o£ Henry James 

here also, there would be a great deal to say, and say again: this 
need of delineating everything, this conscience even, this scru- 
ple against leaving anything in the shadow, this minuteness of 
information, all this fatigues me, wears me out; his narratives 
are without color, without flavor; I hardly e xr er feel behind his 
figures, which are lighted from every side, that cone of unex- 
plorable shadow where the suffering soul lies hidden, but his 
characters have no need of shelter — they have no souls. And I 
have not succeeded in persuading myself that this patience, this 
meticulousness . . . no, that is not great art; his strokes are too 
fine; he is afraid of the robust touches; he proceeds through 

And, again, this distresses me: he dominates his narrative 
from too great a height; he does not commit himself to it, nor 
compromise himself; it is as if he himself had perhaps nothing 
to confess to us. I notice incidentally that a character never in- 
terests me so greatly as when it is created — like Eve — from the 
very flesh of the author; when it is not so much observed as in- 
vented — and there indeed is the secret of the profoundest "an- 
alysts." I think of Dostoevski, of Stendhal, and am most grate- 
ful to M — who remarked in the September issue of the Nou- 
vellc Revue Francaise that Stendhal as an observer was rather 
mediocre, and that he drew from himself the best in his work. 
Not that these authors are exactly portrayed in any one of their 
characters, but nearly every one of their characters (I am think- 
ing now especially of Dostoevski's) is, properly speaking, only 
the projection of an anguish, personal, private. Dostoevski him- 
self lives diffused in all of his heroes, and yet without ever con- 
centrating himself in a single one. So it is that James, in himself, 
I is not interesting; he is only intelligent; he has no mystery in 
! him, no secret; no Figure in the Carpet. At the most, he does 
at moments hoodwink us, as happens with the author hero of 
that specious narrative. Yes, this is exactly what distresses me — 
and what distresses me also in Meredith — to feel the author' 
dominate, glide above the conflict that he invents, pull from too 
great a height the wires that make the actors move. (It seems 
to me that the value of Fielding, of Defoe, of Dickens, of 


Andre Gide 

George Eliot, of Hardy, comes from the fact that they never 
believe themselves, never show themselves, superior.) 

Never do I feel that James is "in" with any one of them — and 
I am most certainly grateful to him for being impartial: but 
Dostoevski, for example, finds a way of being impartial and 
committing himself at the same time to the most contrary, the 
most contradictory characters, who make him enter the heart of 
life, and us after him. Yes, it is just that; the secret of the great 
novelist is not in the domination of situations, but rather in the 
multiplicity of his intimate connivances. Undoubtedly, these 
novels of James are marvels of composition; but one might say 
as well that the qualities of his narratives are always, are never 
anything but, the qualities of composition. We can marvel at 
the delicacy, at the subtlety of the gear wheels, but all his char- 
acters are like the figures of a clock, and the story is finished 
when they have struck the curfew; of themselves they return to 
the clockcase and to the night of our forgetting. 

It goes without saying, nevertheless, that I am aware of all 
the importance of H. James; but I believe him more important 
for England than for France. England has never sinned up to 
the present by too much good cooking; James is a master cook. 
But, as for me, I like precisely those great, untrimmed chunks 
that Fielding or Defoe serves us, barely cooked, but keeping all 
the "blood-taste" of the meat. So much dressing and distinction, 
I am satiated with it in advance; he surpasses us in our own 


, *-: 

Henry James, Melodramatist 

' [ *943 ] 

IN a casual essay entitled "Books and You," Mr. Somerset 
Maugham, while scorning James's work as trivial and super- 
ficial, is nevertheless forced to admit that it somehow "keeps 
the reader going from page to page." The opinion that James's 
novels deal only with the amenities of high life is, of course, not 
new and unhappily not confined to those who, like Mr. 
Maugham, would be content to dismiss James as a "social twit- 
tercr." Even for some of James's admirers, the pleasure he af- 
fords is* in direct proportion to the elegance of his atmosphere 
and the rarefaction of his meaning. These readers are never so 
sure of his artistry as when he entrusts to a lordling some stam- 
mering speech, heavy with adverbs and precious with colloquial- 
isms, which together suggest one of Ollendorff's conversation 
manuals. Whether scornful or admiring, this attitude toward 
James only proves how often critical generalities are based not 
on what is plainly there to be generalized about, but solely on 
what is strange or striking. For the high life, the fine-spun sur- 
face, the Old Pretender style, would not by themselves account 
for the truth which Mr. Maugham grants but does not explain: 
we still ask what it is that keeps the reader going. 

The first step towards a right answer is to recognize that 
James does not deal with etiquette detached from deep feeling; 
that his characters are not exclusively, or even mainly, drawn 
from a class which is beyond the reach of gross circumstance 
or vulgar appetites. On the contrary, most of his novels and 
talcs deal with middling people pursuing the two simplest ob- 
jects of human concern — love and money. When I say "sim- 


Jacques Barzun 

plest," I mean, of course, that abstractly considered they are 
elemental and have kept their primacy in life and literature 
ever since the war that was fought for "Helen and all her 
wealth." It is true that James's mind is engrossed by the com- 
plexities and refinements to which passion and greed give rise 
in a world of elaborate laws and subtle modes of communication. 
But even in the course of inventing and unmasking the num- 
berless disguises which these basic passions can assume, James 
holds to a simple view of their meaning. In acting out their 
feelings, people turn out cither good or evil — a moral attitude 
which, taken with James's addiction to violent plots, leads me 
to say that he is a writer of melodrama. 

No doubt the word needs to be enlarged upon in order to 
convey the sense I intend. We generally think of melodrama as 
a form of stage play which flourished "in the nineties" — we arc 
no longer quite sure of the century — and which had to do with 
mothers and mortgages, destitution and drink. The villain was 
a deliberate evildoer, identifiable by his clothes, coloring, and 
intonation, and providentially created to bring out the finest 
exertions on the part of the hero. In short, melodrama, even at 
its crudest, depicts the endless battle of God and Satan. For 
although the villain in these conventional pieces usually came 
to grief before the final curtain, it was clear in retrospect that 
his aims were precisely the same as the hero's: he wanted the girl 
and the money. The difference which marked him off as evil was 
evidently a matter of style. He was not fastidious enough in the 
means he employed to gratify his otherwise natural desires. 
Hence, if we disregard the particular symbols current in the 
1.890'$ to move the ordinary audiences, and consider only the 
beiieis leading to the use of those symbols, the essence of melo- 
drama appears as a deep conviction that certain deformed ex- 
pressions of human feeling are evil and that this evil is positive 
and must be resisted. 

This definition would, of course, put many great works of 
the past, hitherto called tragedies, into the class of melodrama. 
Much of Shakespeare and Euripides is melodrama in this sense. 
If it is asked why we need to reclassify or relabel these works, the 
answer is that criticism ought to bring together under one name 


The Question of Henry James 

those fictions that record man's horror in the face of evil. Trag- 
edy is not a sufficiently wide name, for it traditionally implies 
a heroic fall under the blow of a fated evil. What do we make 
of the plays, and of the even more numerous novels and tales, 
which lack a magnanimous hero as well as a sense of overriding 
fate? Tragedy can only be a subclass under melodrama — the 
highest — just as the plays of the nineties were the lowest and 

Considered from the point of view of substance, the dif- 
ference between them is that tragedy respects the limits I have 
named; considered from the point of view of artistic pleasure, 
the only difference between them is one of skill. In cheap melo- 
drama, the words, symbols, and plots are hackneyed. They are 
loosely put together to bring out an automatic response. In the 
highest tragedy these artistic elements satisfy more exacting de- 
mands by their uniqueness and close articulation: they make 
poetry. In between the two groups stands the bulk of modern 
prose fiction, from Richardson to Balzac — "aesthetic melo- 
drama," if you will — and it is to this class that James's work 

In this nomenclature, melodrama is distinguished by its feel- 
ing and intention from the parallel and contrasting category of 
comedy. Comedy* likewise, has its common and rare forms, 
ranging as it does from burlesque and farce to the "high" or 
serious comedies of Moliere and Shakespeare. All storytelling 
falls into one or the other of these two great realms, and there 
is, I think, some virtue in being aware of their mutual exclusive- 
ness. I have long puzzled over the undoubted fact that relatively 
few persons are admirers of both Henry James and Meredith. 
Superficially, it should seem as if the same kind of social, intel- 
lectual, and even verbal art were displayed by the two men. 
But deep down they are antithetical. Meredith takes the comic 
point of view, not only in his own special sense, but also in the 
sense I contrast here with melodrama. He creates no supersti- 
tious dread of man's passions. He believes in faults, errors, fol- 
lies, but not in terrifying evil. Sir Willoughby Patterne may be 
egotistical enough to make his intended bride run away, for the 
prospect of a lifetime at his side is of a grim monotony; but 

[z S 6] 

Jacques Barzun 

Sir Willoughby is, so to speak, a recognized, life-size menace; 
he is under social control. There is nothing dark or inhuman 
about him, nor indeed about any of Meredith's villains, except 
perhaps Richard Feverel's father. They cause deep unhappiness 
— as in Diana's life or Bcauchamp's career — but this yields tragi- 
comedy, not melodrama. 

Compare Diana's or Clara Middleton's sense of being caged 
with Isabel Archer's state of soul after she has married Osmond: 
the panic fear, the mystery of the horror, are entirely absent 
from Meredith's treatment and overwhelmingly present in 
James. Perhaps the point needs illustration and refining rather 
than amplification. If we extract what might be called the prose 
meaning of The Golden Bowl or The Wings of the Dove, that 
is, if we make a synopsis of their plots, what do we find? Both 
novels revolve about the possession of human beings or of 
money for the love of either or both. Accordingly, we find two 
stage moralities — the one, a story of supreme goodness over- 
coming surreptitious evil; the other, a story of greed allied to 
weakness destroying pure affection. The last speech in The 
Whigs of the Dove is even in a usual sense a melodramatic 

" 'As we were?' 

" 'As we were.' 

"But she turned to the door and her headshake was now the 
end. 'We shall never be again as we were!' " 

It is perfectly true that Charlotte Stant and Kate Croy are 
not villainesses according to the crude pattern of the green-eyed 
siren, but this is the difference of texture and surface and skill 
that I spoke of as establishing gradations in melodrama. James 
obviously works in a spirit and in a social milieu that exclude 
stagy expression; sometimes they even exclude direct expres- 
sion of any kind. The ramification of self-contained thought 
seeking to convey a hint or to redirect its own passion is what 
deceives Mr. Maugham and delights the professionaljamesian. 
But neither should remain blind to the fire and force beneath 
the surface. There is only one kiss in The Golden Bowl, but it 
is as fully expressive and adulterous as would be a juridical ac- 
count of the lovers' every assignation. Melodrama does not re- 


The Question of Henry James 

quire a set form of words or choices of instances. Aeschylus and 
Shakespeare find other words for Clytcmnestra and Gertrude 
rebuking their sons than "How can you treat your poor mother 
so?" Yet that is surely what the two women are feeling; or 
rather, like James's characters, they are feeling this common 
core of emotion plus the fringes of other feelings that belong 
to themselves alone and give rise to the precise words they use. 
To the ear trained to catch the nuances of a subdued rhetoric, 
the impact is no less great; it is, in fact, reinforced by the 
minute particulars, by the complete personification of the more 
general melodramatic truth that is being portrayed. 

Recall how often, especially in his short stories, James wants 
simply to administer a moral shock: "Look! It is not as you 
think!" Then observe how often this shocking effect is achieved 
either by carefully maintained mystery — by hinting everything 
and thus drawing on the reader's own supply of "melodramatic 
truth"; or more simply still by making much of little, raising 
expectancy by defeating it. /;;. the Cage is an instance of the 
former; The Pension Bea lire pas ? of the latter. In every sense but 
that of vulgar expression, the insoluble mystery of In the Cage 
is pure melodrama, even to the use of the devices of thrillers: 
telegrams, rendezvous, the "papers" concealing a "dark secret" 
« — is it adultery, theft, abortion? — we never know, for we see 
the events through the simple, engaging young woman in the 
cage, emblem of the lower classes watching "the quality" mis- 
behave, half-tempted herself and yet "naturally good." 

In The Pension Beaurepas we could, by forcing the note, dis- 
cover a tract against selfish, spendthrift American women. But 
there is no forcing of the note. The story is an accumulation 
of trifles, a scries of apparently aimless observations, which lead 
us to that sudden revulsion of disgust at the mother and daugh- 
ter of "poor Mr. Ruck," one of James's Cinderella-fathers. It is 
only at the end of the story that the narrator says of him: "I'm 
afraid he's not at all well." The daughter is at that moment 
buying herself a diamond cross, and the mother replies, "Well, 
I must say I wish he'd improve." 

The wickedness of being cold, of deliberately sacrificing others 
to one's lusts, of taking advantage of another through legal or 


Jacques Barzun 

social or emotional privilege, obsesses James. Washington Square 
is an unparalleled example, in which Dr. Sloper's remark to his 
daughter, "You will do what you like," is as terrifying as the 
crack of a whip. And its force is derived from the essentially 
melodramatic situation of a motherless daughter victimized by 
a subservient aunt and a selfish father — a being for whom the 
melodramatic epithet of "fiend in human form" is no longer 
sayable but still just. 

The paradox of James's way with mclodramtic material is 
that he seems to conceive with all the exaggeration necessary for 
"straight" effects and then to submerge the felt enormity under 
a flood of details relevant to be sure, and illuminating as well, 
but above all lifelike in their haphazard discovery and discon- 
nected sequence. At times the dimming effect of detail is pur- 
posely left incomplete, and soft and harsh are given us side by 
side, as it were to show us that the beast is not in the jungle but 
in the drawing room. Take for instance the opening of The 
Bench of Desolation, which has to do with a breach of promise. 
"She had practically, he believed, conveyed the intimation" — so 
far this is Jamesian haze but now comes, without a break, the 
Jamesian directness — "the horrid, brutal, vulgar menace in their 
last dreadful conversation. . . ." This juxtaposition of effects 
is repeated a few lines below: "There was no question of not 
understanding — the ugly, the awful words ruthlessly formed 
by her lips. . . ." And finally, after another cushion of com- 
ment comes her "I'll sue, unless. . . ." 

At other times, the horror is less certain. We feel it but know 
neither where to find it, nor how to confound the evildoers. 
Like "poor Mr. Ruck," Greville Fane, the woman novelist who 
has brought up her two children by dint of writing salable 
trash, becomes the pitiable victim of their insolent contempt, 
and yet we can hardly give a name to their crime. All we can 
do is to say with James that "they go too far." For James is 
free enough from the preconceptions of uniformity in wicked- 
ness to recognize that the commonest social form of human evil 
is not the palpable villain but the shady character. His gallery 
illustrating the type is very rich, from Madame Merle and the 
young Bostonian aboard the S.S. Patagonia to the satanic fam- 

The Question of Henry James 

ilies in which Newman, the American, and the English tutor of 
The Pupil find themselves* Again in these more shaded per- 
formances, the management of the plot is by mystery or the 
accumulation of trivialities — little lies, easygoing indifference 
to small duties, failures to act or respond in time. Time is im- 
portant, for under the laws of society as well as under those of 
melodrama, technicalities are the very abettors of evil. 

It is simply because life in society makes multitudinous occa- 
sions for pain that James's studies report evil as nearly always 
triumphant. The possible complications of life — and none arc 
impossible — translate themselves into plots for stories, in which 
it is remarkable with what disregard of their intelligence or 
merit the guileless are undone. Lovers — on whom James lavishes 
his manly tenderness — are separated by money or the lack of it; 
by misunderstanding or excessive insight; by secrets or revela- 
tions; by pride or humility. Free will makes the wrong choice in 
either case simply because it is will. It seemed so to James from 
the very beginning, as is recorded in one of his earliest tales, the 
Civil War story of thwarted love called Poor Richard. Death 
alone makes life under such conditions bearable, and this may 
be why even when he works in his most delicate impressionist 
manner, James is not afraid of crashing cymbals for the denoue- 
ment. Daisy Miller dies; the girl on the S.S. Patagonia jumps 
overboard; the Pupil wastes away; Valentin, de Bcllegarde is 
killed in a duel; the unappreciated author catches cold and is 
buried from the house of the Lion huntress who has forgotten 
him; the girl who betrayed herself by a proposal dies of shame. 
Strictly considered, all these deaths are unnecessary, implausible; 
but they are indispensable as a relief from and as sanctions for 
James's moral judgment, which is that the world is too full of 
desires and not sufficiently full of people in whom desire is puri- 
fied by grace. 

Two works of James's, which deserve to be better known 
than they are, throw a decisive light on his belief in the ubiquity 
of evil. I refer to The Other House and 7' he Reprobate, both 
originally intended for the stage. The circumstances surround- 
ing the writing of The Otfier House in its present form account 
for its. relative obscurity. .Persuaded by Clement Shorter to 


Jacques Barzun 

write a "popular" serial for the Illustrated Loudon News, James 
took a three-act play which he had on hand and by the addition 
of a few introductory pages turned the violent drama of jeal- 
ousy and murder into a novel unique among his works for 
speed, style, and force. It was not popular in any sense, cer- 
tainly not popular with the readers of the Illustrated London 
News. On this point it is not hard to believe the egregious Mr. 
Shorter, who privately printed his correspondence with James 
and his views of the transaction. For The Other House has the 
same tenseness and mystery as The Turn of the Screw but with- 
out any escape for our apprehensions through the loophole of 
the supernatural. We know from the start that we face the 
diabolical and the real in one embodiment, and it is only on 
a second reading that we perceive how this fusion is achieved: 
James has systcmically translated love, fear, hatred, suspicion, 
envy, and the premeditation of crime into bodily gesture. The 
novel betrays its stage origin by the visible motion 2nd the sharp 
detonating speech of its characters; yet, except in a few pas- 
sages, all the symbols are original, constituting a new and direct 
melodramatic idiom unlike anything else in fiction — James's 
included. But although the plot is simple, the characters are not; 
and one guesses that what must chiefly have bewildered the 
readers of the "serial" was the mixture of charm and ferocity, 
brains and blindness, bestowed by, the author on "good" and 
"bad" alike, despite the distinction that he maintains between 
them to the end. 

Because of unpleasant dealings with his editor — Shorter tried 
to bully James into attending "Omar Khayyam dinners" with- 
'out ever satisfactorily explaining what or why they were — 
James contracted a permanent dislike for the novel and ex- 
cluded it from the New York Edition. But its significance re- 
mains, as the one full-length story of earthly horror and violence, 
couched in his most naked manner, in which he 2'aces steadily 
from beginning to end the unmixed evil that always and in 
every shape haunted him. 

The Reprobate, a three-act play published by James in 1895 
but never acted until after his death, is unique among his works 
for the contrary reason that it represents the comic view of the 

The Question of Henry James 

doer of evil. It is the only one of James's four "Theatricals" 
which does not contain a downright malicious character. In The 
Reprobate all the dramatis personae are jokes; not the sardonic 
jokes whom James knows how to keep half descriptive, half 
damnatory, 1 but thoroughly laughable jokes. Paul Doubleday, 
the reprobate whom everybody puts into Coventry for his de- 
pravities — smoking, drinking, reading novels, and talking to 
pretty women — is at once charming, innocent, and fatuous. He 
is "saved" by the heroine, who does not vanquish his vices but 
confirms them by her approval. She is the ludicrous counterpart 
of Maggie Verver. Indeed, the play, which Shaw in 19 19 found 
well worth seeing on the stage, is not merely comic or even 
light, but farcical. Paul Doubleday is treated by his guardians 
as if his passions were not youthful but infantile. And in the 
end, it is the adults who seem most childish, least competent to 
deal with life. What we are shown is the nature of evil as it is 
seen from the planet Mars, with the consequences brushed aside 
and the pain forgotten. How James sustains this fantastic at- 
mosphere while keeping alive the excitement of a twice-triangu- 
lar plot is a test of his skill in verbal modulation — a tour de 
force which, as might have been expected, deceived certain 
critics into saying that here again James meant well but was 

To instance The Reprobate and The Other House as side- 
lights upon James's melodramatic intent is to raise the question 
of his attitude towards drama in general. James felt — and said — 
that he was basically and always a dramatist. He was twice lured 
into writing for the stage not simply for its rewards in money 
but because he sought the intensified effect of the play form — 
the short, sharp conflict which must be made plain as it pro- 
gresses and which must nonetheless be kept half-hidden to hold 
the feelings of wonder or horror in suspense. On these topics, 
both before and after his failure with the London managers and 

1 A whole essay should be written on James as humorist, but I suspect it would 
show that "his humor, inexhaustible though it is, remains predominantly sardonic, 
just short of bitter. A characteristic example can be found in the opening pages of 
Nona Vincent describing a great man of business, large, heavy, powerful: "He ad- 
mired his wife . . . and liked her to have other tastes than his, as that seemed to 
give a greater acreage to their life." 


Jacques Barzun 

the London audience, James wrote much, in his letters as well as 
in his stories and prefaces. And this concern left a significant 
mark on all his later work. The observance of the "point of 
view"* which he made into a dogma for the novelist, the build- 
ing up of his novels and tales by scenes, the division of his char- 
acters into actors and narrators — all imply an adaptation of 
stage effects to printed fiction. Even the expansion of dialogue 
into something gigantic, searching, omniscient, does not contra- 
dict this tendency; Jamcsian dialogue only expresses the conflict 
of wills more precisely than the crude, traditional words associ- 
ated with stock situations. The proof of this effectiveness is that 
such a reader as Mr. Maugham, even while he complains of 
James's "involuted style," feels himself pulled along by the 
strong current beneath. 

Besides, in all the fiction of the later years, James made use of 
physical images and of vulgar colloquialisms for the special pur- 
pose of maintaining the intensity of his scenes at the requisite 
pitch. Only think how often his dialogue is buttressed by end- 
less variants of the one metaphor: "she gave it to him full in 
the face" — "he braced himself to meet it" — and so down to the 
very nearly "pulp" level of "she let him have it." And action 
follows metaphor. How many readers, if asked to identify this 
bit of fiction, would give James as its author: 

"Listen to me before you go. I will give you a life's devotion," the 
younvj man pleaded. He barred her way. 

"I shall never think of you — let me go!" she cried with passion. 

This propensity toward violence, and even more this sense 
that violence is to be found even in casual utterance and ges- 
ture is, of course, by now good Freudian analysis. The "civi- 
lized" being, if he is also human, can always be caught off guard, 
and the conflicts that interest a dramatist are nothing but a 
succession of these moments. It is not necessary to add that 
James's "psychology" was not a doctrine learned and applied; 
it came out of his temperament and self-education. His readers 
have perhaps not sufficiently noticed how native to his char- 
acter is the love of exaggeration. His reported speech is always 
a magnification of feeling — " 'COME!' " Henry James cried, 

The Question of Henry James 

raising His hands to Heaven. " 'I would walk across London 
with bare feet on the snow to meet George Santayana. At what 
time? One thirty! I will come. At one thirty I shall inevitably, 
inexorably make my appearance!' " This was no isolated out- 
burst. Most anecdotes of his apprehensions or predicaments, 
like his comments upon the feelings of his fictional heroes, are 
filled with "big," "dreadful," "hideous" or conversely, with 
"beautifully," "so admirably," "all too wonderfully." 

Endowed with the exquisiteness of a Lilliputian, his senses 
yield Brobdingnagian images. Occasionally one of these will rise 
to the height of genius, as when he greeted the recital of a 
friend's morning activities with the exclamation, "What a 
princely expenditure of time!" But it also accounts for the ap- 
pearance of pusillanimity for which he has been rather too easily 
ridiculed. He has been called snob and weakling because he 
seemed afraid of doing the wrong thing and of not having 
enough money; and his brother William has been shown off in 
contrast as a man who courageously breasted every adverse tide. 
This is true of William, and Henry's apprehensions no doubt 
make rather unsatisfactory biographical matter. Yet I think the 
sense of threatening evil was not at bottom very different in the 
two brothers. William was a Manichean whose courage, though 
real, was born of deep inner uncertainty — an irrepressible doubt 
which in its philosophic guise made him the critic of all dog- 
matic and optimistic certainties: nothing for him was ever 
finally won or held safe. 

Henry, one feels, shared the same conviction, but was too 
intent on expressing it in fiction to devise a fighting strategy 
for his own personal use. This in itself was a form of courage. 
He spoke his fears and, unlike some of his deeply mistaken 
devotees, never wished life secure. "Life," he said, "is far more 
interesting than its regularization," and he thought so well of it 
that he had the strength, at the age of seventy-two, to go, Whit- 
man-like, among the wounded of the World War and reanimate 
their wi'sh to live. One desperately mutilated man, it is recorded, 
he brought back when everyone else had failed. 

This feat alone should help to correct the overwritten por- 
trait which we owe to Edith Wharton and her kind, of a help- 

[ 2 * 4 ] 

Jacques Barzun 

less, complicated, timorous great man. A better image — if we 
must put a pinch of derision into our mixture — is that of James 
coping with fire at Lamb House in Rye. His own account is 
symbolic of the Manichean fight; he personifies the burning 
rafter: "We put him out, we made him stop, with soaked 
sponges — and then the relief: even while gazing at the hacked 
and smashed and disfigured floors.'* James goes to bed, well 
pleased with his heroism, but the fire breaks out again, the pro- 
fessionals come and act, fortunately "without too much zeal," 
and after a sleepless night James signs himself to his correspond- 
ent "your startled but re-quieted and fully insured H.J." 

To describe what personal influences played upon and shaped 
his sense of ever-present evil would be a study in itself. A Small 
Boy and Others, which gives us, like William's earlier letters, 
glimpses of a retiring, impressionable youth overwhelmed by 
exceedingly bright and articulate relatives; the four years of 
war, experienced from afar but at the formative close of ado- 
lescence; the death of the fair cousin, the peculiar, patent ugli- 
ness of the American catch as catch can, comparable to the 
more concealed cutthroat rivalries of literary Paris — these things 
among others seen by James before his thirtieth year must have 
corroborated his sense of the rawness of human passion and con- 
centrated his mind on the problem:' How to keep passion nat- 
ural and yet extinguish its harvest" of evil. 

For James is no ascetic, no admirer of tepid feeling, systematic 
constraint, or dilettante refinements. He pillories Gilbert Os- 
mond for being such a dilettante and makes us love Isabel Archer 
for her moral spontaneity. We are made to share the zest with 
which she wants to taste life and even admire Caspar Goodwood 
for the robustness of his desires, which embrace equally the pos- 
session of Isabel and of worldly goods. M. A. de Wolfe Howe has 
also told us how on one occasion James passed judgment on the 
brownstone fronts of Boston by exclaiming, "Do you feel that 
Marlborough Street is — precisely — passionate}" 

This acceptance of life quand meme, or even because of en- 
compassing evil, James held to from the first. In a review of 
Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, written when he was twenty-two, 
James complains that "the friction of two men, of two char- 

The Question of Henry James 

acters, of two passions, produces stronger sparks than Wray- 
burn's boyish repartees and Headstone's melodramatic common- 
places." The review as a whole is less a balanced judgment on 
Dickens's masterpiece than a program for James's future fiction. 
The keynote, from the partial point of view I have adopted in 
these pages, is, of course, "melodramatic commonplaces." Find- 
ing new artistic forms to kindle into life by means of the sparks 
that conflicting passions strike was to be James's problem, and 
having succeeded in making them is his title to greatness. 

In so doing he was not only expressing his own personal 
awareness of the vast dominions of human evil but performing 
a task assigned to him by the literature of the nineteenth cen- 
tury. He must criticize the melodrama that had become com- 
monplace — in Dickens, in Balzac, in George Sand, in Victor 
Hugo. But contrary to a usual belief, James was not turning 
his back on their view of life, on their "exaggeration," on their 
"romanticism." James was not a "realist" in the meaning that 
Flaubert gave to the term : realism had been the first reaction to 
nineteenth-century romanticism. James came a full generation 
after Flaubert, whose artistic passion he admired more than 
its "realistic" product, for the product was bitter and, in the 
end, life denying. Pvathcr James went back, over the realists' 
heads, to the romanticists whom he wished to purge and reno- 
vate. His published criticism of that earlier generation is funda- 
mentally sympathetic; and his opinion remarkably appreciative 
when it has to deal with a neoromantic calling himself a natural- 
ist in the person of Zola, and even with a pastiche-romantic in 
the person of Robert Louis Stevenson. James's allegiance in fact 
never swerved from the mactcr of them all, Balzac, in whom 
melodrama can be found at its most conscious, forthright, and 
moralistic; put there for the double purpose of nerving men to 
face life and of keeping the reader going. 



The Altar of Henry James 

[ 1943 ] 

THIS is, perhaps, an unfortunate title; it docs not refer, for 
example, to the increasing number of people who have been 
throwing themselves at the feet of Henry James in the last few 
years. At least a half-dozen full-length studies of his work are 
in preparation; not ail of his books are easily available on the 
market; his reputation is higher than at any moment in his own 
lifetime. It is clear enough that to the present generation he 
means something more than to the generation of Van Wyck 
Brooks and Lewis Mumford or to the addled and intolerant gen- 
eration of the thirties. Also clear is that what he means is some- 
thing different. To say what this something is in every case is, 
of course, impossible. What this article undertakes is to suggest 
that if he makes such a great appeal to so many of us today it 
must be because there lies at the center of his work something 
that corresponds to our deepest contemporary needs and hopes. 
It raises the question of what was James's own altar — or, if one 
prefers, the particular object of piety to which he was able to 
devote himself at the end. 

All this is to strike the religious note; and, indeed, since we 
have no better word for the kind of passionate and responsible 
sense of human things that James possessed, he must be ac- 
counted a religious man. In this he simply followed his astonish- 
ing father, who ached out a lifetime trying to reconcile a her- 
itage of respectability and good sense with a taste for Swcdcn- 
borgian mysticism. Nor was he essentially unlike his brother 
William, whose too sudden plunge into the darker cellars of the 
personality, during the period of his breakdown, frightened him 

[2<j 7 ] 

• The Question of Henry James 

into a loud and quasi-religious philosophy of optimism. All the 
Jameses were religious. The important thing about Henry is 
that he was an artist; that is, he had to v/ork in a concrete 
medium and in a more or less fixed craft which did not permit 
him the consolations of shaking his head over Brook Farm ex- 
periments or becoming the Socrates of the Chautauquas. It 
meant that he could not evade the really great questions because 
these questions were stubbornly imbedded in the very materials 
of his craft — the lived and observed human situation. 

For us it means that if we are to look for what is essential in 
James we are not likely to find it on the surface of his writing. 
(This is probably what T. S. Eliot means by the remark, "James 
had a mind so pure that no idea could violate it.") As in any 
authentic artist, the "meaning" in James is contained in the 
total arrangement and order of his symbols, and in the novel 
everything — people, events, and settings — are capable of being 
invested with symbolic value. In only a few novelists like Tur- 
' gcncv> Joyce, and the Mann of Death hi Venice are meaning 
and literal statement so indivisible; the great works of the last 
period, The Ambassadors and The Golden ~Boiul y are put to- 
gether, if not like a vastly exfoliated lyric, like one of the final 
plays of Shakespeare. And to approach them in the manner of 
Spurgeon or Knight on Shakespeare is almost certainly to un- 
cover conflicts of feeling that are more often than not belied by 
the overt urbanity of style. It is also to raise the question of 
how much is conscious, how much unconscious, in any artist's 
work — in James's case, the often noted element of ambiguity. 
Is it merely an accident, for example, that in an early work like 
The Portrait of a Lady all the great climaxes in Isabel Archer's 
career — from her refusal of the English lord to her final flight 
from Caspar Goodwood — are made to occur in a garden? If an 
accident, it was a fortunate one, for the garden-symbol pro- 
vides a wonderful point of concentration for the widest possible 
number of associations — the recollection especially of the fa- 
mous garden in which one of Isabel's ancestresses was also con- 
fronted with the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and 
evil. It enables us to arrive at the formula, nowhere explicit in 
the book, that the real trouble with Isabel is that she is someone 


William Troy 

who will have none of the bitter fruit and runs from the garden 
in panic. And it might lead us to an even wider formula regard- 
ing James's own attitude toward these matters at this point in 
his development. 

For the symbolic approach to James, besides lifting the mys- 
tery of individual works, makes possible a more organic study 
of his whole growth and achievement than the usual chronologi- 
cal division of his career into three periods. If the garden-symbol 
began as an accident, for example, it persists with remarkable 
frequency; and it is submitted to a series of drastic modifica- 
tions. In The Portrait of a Lady it is clearly ambivalent. On the 
one hand, it is all that rich if uncertain promise of beautiful 
fulfillment that life is opening up to Isabel — wealth, marriage, 
Europe. On the other, it is the dwelling place of the_unkno\vn V\ 
terror that is actually in herself — the terror of experience which Tj 
at the end she rationalizes in terms of moral obligation. If the 
novel ends with such manifest ambiguity it is because James 
himself has not yet resolved certain issues in his mind and tem- 
perament. In the novels and talcs of the nineties, the so-called 
"middle period," the symbol is first split wide asunder into its 
two aspects, then one of them is made to dominate. When the 
governess in The Turn of the Screw begins her afternoon walk 
in the garden everything is calm and radiant and peaceful. It 
is with the force of a shock, she tells us, that it suddenly be- 
comes transformed for her into a scene of desolation and death. 
Once again we know that this is a case of projection; the garden 
is all that alarming and unsuspected side of her nature which 
she cannot accept because she believes it to be evil. Nor do we 
feel that James accepts it; evil, working in the guise of zeal, is 
triumphant; and the story adds up to another terrifying treat- 
ment of the Othello motif, the infinite amount of mischief done 
in the of goodness, by self-blinded inno- 
cence. Even more terrifying perhaps in its nightmarish cancel- 
lation of all normal motives is The Other House, in which 
nearly all the action occurs in a garden. James did not include 
this in the New York Edition; it is the one altogether evil book 
that he ever wrote. But it sounds the depths of what must have 
been in his life a period of the most torturous metaphysical panic 

[i6 9 ] 

The Question of Henry James 

and moral despair. Without such a sojourn in the abyss as it 
represents he would never have attained to the full-bodied affir- 
mation of the last and greatest period. Like Strethcr, in The 
Ambassadors, he wins through, by a long and difficult "process 
of vision," to an acceptance of human life as it is lived — quali- 
fied, of course, by a revalidation of the naively grasped moral 
certitudes of his youth. It is in Gloriani's garden that Strether 
makes the celebrated speech with the refrain, "Live, live while 
you can!" But life now is to be lived always with the wary 
knowledge of the shadows lurking ever in the dark corners of 
the garden. 

To point out that the full import of James is to be derived 
only from some such weighing of his major symbols is not to 
deny that throughout his v/ork he does let drop explicit judg- 
ments and opinions on important matters, although never like 
Tolstoy or Proust to the temporary abnegation of his role. It so 
happens that in one of the final stories of the middle period — 
not one of the best known or most admired — he has given us 
what may' be taken as something like a testament of belief. The 
Altar of the Dead is unique in the James canon, fluttering on 
the cd^c of a morbid emotionalism and sustained only by a mar- 
velous tonality of style. It is also a masterpiece of its kind in 
English — the long short story or novella. But for our purpose 
it is significant because it is the only one of James's works in 
which a character is made to come face to face with the problem 
of religion. 

Its hero, one of those sensitive middle-aged gentlemen whom 
James apologizes for writing about in the nineties, shocked by 
the callousness of a friend who remarries too soon after his first 
wife's death, dedicates himself to keeping up the memory of his 
dead friends. "What came to pass was that an altar, such as was 
after all within everybody's compass, lighted with perpetual 
candles and dedicated to these secret rites, reared itself in his 
spiritual spaces. He had wondered of old, in some embarrass- 
ment, whether he had a religion; being very sure, and not a little' 
content, that he hadn't at all events the religion some of the 
people he had known wanted him to have. Gradually this ques- 
tion was straightened out for him — it became clear to him that 


*" William Troy 

the religion instilled by his earliest consciousness had been simply 
the religion of the Dead." Difficulties begin when quite by acci- 
dent he enters a church and is tempted to light real candles be- 
fore the real altar of a religion in which he does not believe. For 
he soon acquires a companion in mourning — a woman given to 
the same rites for a dead friend. In time it turns out that this 
friend, who had actually been her ruin, is also the one man 
among his friends whom the hero cannot commemorate because 
of some betrayal in the past. This coincidence threatens their 
relationship; they can no longer pay tribute at the same altar. 
A resolution is managed only when the hero realizes that the 
true "religion of the Dead" requires that we remember even 
our enemies — just because they were once part of ourselves and 
helped make us what we are. 

What does James intend by this strange and tenuous parable, 
which he himself refers to as a "conceit"? It is, as he tells us 
in a preface, an instance of the "exasperated piety" of the Lon- 
doner of his time: "an instance of some such practiced com- 
munion was a foredoomed consequence of life, year after year, 
amid the densest and most materialized aggregation of men on 
earth, the society most wedded by all its conditions to the im- 
mediate and finite." It is a commentary on the pathetic desola- 
tion of the individual in our society — a desolation shared by 
both the living and the dead. Toward the dead it expressed the 
same kind of sympathy that we find in Baudelaire's 

Les viortSy les pauvres morts, ont de gratidcs douleurs, 
Et quand Octobre souffle, emovdeur des vieux arbres, 
Son vent melancoliqne a Vcntonr de leurs marbres, 
Ccrtc, ils doivent trouver les vivants bien ingrats. 

And in its emphasis on the still potent influence that the dead 
can exercise on the living it recalls Joyce's fine story, The Dead. 
As to the living, or the living-dead, it explains their desolation 
as the absence of any ritual by which some principle of continu- 
ity in human experience may be recognized and observed. For 
it is continuity that it represented as the basis of everything — 
of personality, friendship, morality, and civilization itself. 
Without some sense of it the individual is no more than a mo- 


The Question of Henry James 

mcnt in time and a speck in space; he has nothing by means of 
which he can define his own identity. 

What James tells us, finally, is that we exist only by virtue 
of the existence of others, living and dead, with whom we have 
ever had relations. The individual, in the language of modern 
physics, is only an "event," to be defined in terms of a given 
field of forces. These relations or forces bring with them certain 
obligations, and the greatest of these is the formal act of com- 
memoration. It is not morbidity that prompts James to write: 
"The sense of the state of the dead is but part of the sense of 
the state of the living; and, congruously with that, life is cheated 
to almost the same degree of the finest homage (precisely this 
our possible friendships and intimacies) that we fain would 
render it." We pay respect to the dead because they enhance the 
state of the living, and the dead is, of course, a metaphor for 
the whole tradition of civilized humanity of which we are 
a part and in terms of which we must ultimately be meas- 
ured. This sense of the continuum between past and present, 
between all who share the memory of a common experience, 
is now known to be at the base of every religion in the 
world. For James it is a very real religion, although wholly 
without any theological cast. Or, if we prefer, he emerges 
as one of our great humanists, the greatest perhaps, because 
his humanism was grounded in such a rich tragic experi- 
ence. And, in that case, his altar — what would it be but the 
sometimes splendid and exultant, sometimes mangled and igno- 
ble, body of humanity stretched out in imagination in time and 
space? At a moment when loss of continuity is our gravest 
threat, when personality is everywhere at a discount, when all 
consequent values dissolve in the general terror, it is probably 
no great wonder that more and more people arc turning to 
Henry James. 



Attitudes Toward Henry James 

[ 1943 ] 

HENRY JAMES is at once the most and least appreciated 
figure in American writing. His authority as a novelist of 
unique quality and as an archetypal American has grown im- 
measurably in the years since his death, and in some literary 
circles his name has of late been turned into the password of a 
cult. But at the same time he is still regarded, in those circles 
that exert the major influence on popular education and intel- 
ligence, with the coldness and even derision that he encountered 
in the most depressed period of his career, when his public de- 
serted him and he found himself almost alone. 

To illustrate the extent to which he is even now misunder- 
stood, let me cite the opening gambit of the section on James in 
The College Book of American Literature, a text currently used 
in many schools. "It is not certain that Henry James really be- 
longs to American literature, for he was critical of America and 
admired Europe." The attitude so automatically expressed by 
the editors of this academic volume obviously borders on cari- 
cature. The responsibility for it, however, must be laid at the 
door of all those critics and historians who, in response to a deep, 
anti-intellectual compulsion or at the service of some blindly 
nationalistic or social creed, are not content merely to say no to 
the claims made in James's behalf but must ever try to despoil 
him utterly. The strategy is simple: James was nothing but a 
self-deluded, expatriate snob, a concoctor of elegant if intricate 
trifles, a fugitive from "reality," etc., etc. Professor Pattee, a 
run-of-the-mill historian of American writing, permits himself 
the remark that James's novels "really accomplish nothing." 


The Question of Henry James 

Ludwig Lcwisohn is likewise repelled by the novels — "cathedrals 
of frosted glass" he calls them; in his opinion only the shorter 
narratives are worth reading. 1 In his Main Currents in American 
Thought Parrington gives two pages to James as against eleven 
to James Branch Cabell, and he has the further temerity (and/or 
innocence) to round out his two pages by comparing James — 
much to his disadvantage, of course— to Sherwood Anderson. 
And Van Wyck Brooks docs all he can, in New England: Indian 
Summer, to promote once more the notoriously low estimate of 
the later James to which he committed himself in The Pilgrim- 
age. Brooks may well believe that the Jamcsian attachment is to 
be counted among the fixed ideas of our native "coterie writers" 
— and plainly the best cure for a fixed idea is to stamp on it. 
This depreciation of James is prepared for by some of the 
leading assumptions of our culture. The attitude of Parrington, 
for example, is formed by the Populist spirit of the West and 
its open-air poetics, whereas that of Brooks is at bottom formed 
by the moralism of New England — a moralism to which he has 
reverted, even though in practice he applies it in a more or less 
impressionistic and sentimental manner, with all the vehemence 
of a penitent atoning for his backsliding in the past. And the 
difference between such typical attitudes is mainly this: that 
• while Parrington — like Whitman and Mark Twain before him 
— rejects James entirely, Brooks at least recognizes the value and 
fidelity to life of his earlier novels. Yet if James can be namecT^ 
/Tn T. S. Eliot's phrase, "a positive continuator of the New Eng- 
/ land genius," then surely Brooks must be aware of it as' well as 
any of us; for he is nothing if not a pious servitor of this genius; 
after all, he, too, is a paleface. But still he scoffs at the more 
complex and, so to speak, ultimate James. And this Brooks does 
essentially for the same reasons, I think, that the Boston public 
of the 1 870's scoffed at the works he now admits into his canon. 
We know that when the first of James's books appeared in 
America, they were actively disliked in Boston: Mrs. Fields (the 
wife of the publisher) relates that they were thought "self- 
conscious, artificial and shallow." A like animus is now betrayed 

1 But Lcwisohn, v/ho exhibits this truncated taste for James in Expression in 
America,' is neither a nationalise nor a sociological critic. 


Philip Rahv 

in Brooks's judgment of such novels as The Spoils of Poyiiton, 

The Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl: 

Magnificent pretensions, petty performances! — the fruits of an ir- 
responsible imagination, of a deranged sense of values, of a mind work- 
ing in a void, uncorrected by any clear consciousness of human cause 
and effect (The Pilgrimage of Henry James). 

There was scarcely enough substance in these great ghosts of novels. 
. . . What concerned him now was form, almost regardless of con- 
tent, the problems of calculation and construction. . . . His Ameri- 
can characters might be nobler, but, if the old world was corrupt, its 
glamor outweighed its corruption in his mind ... so that he later 
pictured people, actually base, as eminent, noble and great (New Eng- 
land: Indian Summer). 

What arc such extreme statements if not critical rationaliza- 
tions of the original Boston prejudice? Brooks begins by magni- 
fying the distinctions between James's early and late manner 
into an absolute contradiction, and ends by invoking the charge 
of degeneracy. But the fact is that the changes in James's work 
mark no such gap as Brooks supposes but are altogether implicit 
in the quality of his vision, flowing from the combined release 
and elaboration of his basic tendency. Moreover, these changes, 
far from justifying the charge of degeneracy, define for a good 
many of his readers the one salient example in our literature of) 
a novelist who, not exhausted by his initial assertion of power, 
learned how to nourish his gifts and grow to full maturity. To' 
me he is the only really fine American writer of the nineteenth 
century who can truly be said to have mastered that "principle 
of growth," to the failure of which in our creative life Brooks 
'has himself repeatedly called attention in his earlier preach- 

For what is to be admired in a late narrative like The Wings 
of the Dove is James's capacity to lift the nuclear theme of his 
first period — the theme of the American innocent's penetration 
into the "rich and deep and dark" hive of Europe — to a level of 
conscious experience and aesthetic possession not previously at- 
tained. James orders his world with consummate awareness in 
this narrative, applying successfully his favorite rule of an "ex- 
quisite economy" in composition. There are brilliant scenes in 

The Question of Henry James 

it of London and Venice, and strongly contrasted symbols of 
social glamor and decay; it is invigorated, too, by an unflagging 
realism in the plotting of act and motive and by the large move- 
ment of the characters. No literary standpoint that allows for 
the dismissal of this creation as a "petty performance" can pos- 
sibly be valid. Is its heroine, Milly Thcale, a character without 
reality? She remains in our mind, writes Edmund Wilson, "as 
a personality independent of the novel, the kind of personality, 
deeply felt, invested with poetic beauty and unmistakably indi- 
vidualized, which only the creators of the first rank can give 
life to." 

James suffers from a certain one-sidedness, to be sure. This 
tends to throw off balance such readers as are unable to see it 
for what it is— the price he paid, given the circumstances of his 
career, for being faithful to his own genius. For James could 
continue to develop and sustain his "appeal to a high refine- 
ment and a handsome wholeness of effect" only through inten- 
sively exploiting his viry limitations, through submitting him- 
self to a process of creative yet cruel self-exaggeration. The 
strain shows in the stylization of his language, a stylization so 
rich that it turns into an intellectual quality of rare value, but 
which at' times is apt to become overwrought and drop into un- 
conscious parody. It is further shown in his obsessive refinement 
— a veritable delirium of refinement — which again serves at 
times to remove us from the actuality of the represented experi- 
ence. T m 's should be related to his all-too-persistent attempts, as 
Yvor Winters has observed, to make the sheer tone of speech 
and behavior "carry vastly more significance than is proper to 
it." It is true that, for instance, in novels like The Sense of the 
Past and The Awkward Age, he pushes his feelings for nuances 
and discriminations to an unworkable extreme. But such distor- 
tions, inflated into awful vices by his detractors, are of the kind 
which in one form or another not only James but most of the 
considerable modern artists are forced to cultivate as a means 
of coping with the negative environment that confines them. 
To regard such distortions as the traits of a willful coterie is 
utterly naive. They are the traits, rather, of an art which, if it 
is to survive at all in a society inimical to all interests that are 


Philip Rahv 

pure, gratuitous, and without cash value, has no other recourse 
save constantly to "refine its singularities" and expose itself 
more and more to the ravages of an unmitigated individualism. 
But in all this I do not mean to imply that I agree with those 
enthusiasts who see no moral defects whatsoever in James. From 
the viewpoint of social criticism, there is a good deal of justice 
in Ferner Nuhn's mordant analysis of The Golden BoivL Nuhn 
shows up one such defect in James's close identification with 
Adam and Maggie Verner's upper-class American illusions and 
self-righteousness. (One is persuaded of this view by the evi- 
dence of the tone and the inner manipulation of the scale of 
value, for here too the author makes the story "tell itself.") 
Nuhn fails to bring out, however, the enormous assets with 
which this novel is otherwise endowed. There is a use of symbols 
in it and a scenic and dramatic power scarcely equaled, to my 
mind, anywhere in American prose. Furthermore, whatever one 
may think of the millionaire self-indulgence of the Ververs, this 
is a far cry from the charge that his long exile put James into 
such a bad state that he could no longer distinguish between the 
noble and the base. This sort of charge is answered once and 
for all, it seems to me, by Stephen Spender in his study, The 
Destructive Element: 

The morality of the heroes and heroines [in the List great novels] 
is to "suffer generously." What they have to suffer from is being more 
intelligent than the other characters. Also, there are no villains. It is 
important to emphasize this, because in these really savage novels the 
behavior of some of the characters is exposed in its most brutal form. 
But the wickedness of the characters lies primarily in their situation. 
Once the situation is provided, the actors cannot act otherwise. Their 
only compensation is that by the use of their intelligence, by their abil- 
ity to understand, to love and to- suffer, they may to some extent atone 
for the evil which is simply the evil of the modern world. 

As against the sundry moralizers and nationalists who belittle 
James, there are the cultists who go to the other extreme in pre- 
senting him as a kind of culture hero, an ideal master whose per- 
fection of form is equaled by his moral insight and stanch al- 
legiance to "tradition." This image is, no doubt, of consolatory 
value to some high-minded literary men. It contributes, how- 


The Question of Henry James 

ever, to the misunderstanding of James, in that it is so impec- 
cable, one might say transcendent, that it all but eliminates the 
contradictions in him — and in modern literature, which bristles 
with anxieties and ideas of isolation, it is above all the creativity, 
the depth and quality of the contradictions that a writer unites 
within himself, that gives us the truest measure of his achieve- 
ment. And this is not primarily a matter of the solutions, if 
any, provided by the writer — for it is hardly the writer's busi- 
ness to stand in for the scientist or philosopher — but of his force 
and integrity in reproducing these contradictions as felt ex- 
perience. Very few of us would be able to appreciate Dostoevski, 
for instance, if we first had to accept his answer to the problem 
of the Christian man, or Proust if we first had to accept his 
answer to the problem of the artist. We appreciate these novel- 
ists because they employ imaginative means that convince us of 
the reality of their problems, which are not necessarily ours. 

T. S. Eliot was surely right in saying that the soil of James's 
origin imparted a ''flavor" that was "precisely improved and 
given its chance, not worked off" by his living in Europe. Now 
James differs radically in his contradictions from European nov- 
elists — that is why readers lacking a background in American^ 
or at least Anglo-Saxon culture make so little of him. And the 
chief contradiction is that, his work represents a positive and 
ardent search for "experience" and simultaneously a withdrawal 
from it, or rather, a dread of approaching it in its natural state. 
Breaking sharply with the then still dominant American moral- 
ity of abstention, he pictures "experience" as the "real taste of 
life," as a longed-for "presence" at once "vast, vague, and daz- 
zling — an irradiation of light from objects undefined, mixed 
with the atmosphere of Paris and Venice." Nevertheless, to 
prove truly acceptable, it must first be Americanized as it were, 
that is to say, penetrated by the new-world conscience and 
cleansed of its taint of "evil." This tension between the impulse 
to plunge into "experience" and the impulse to renounce it is 
the chief source of the internal yet astonishingly abundant 
Jamesian emotion; and because the tension is not always ade- 
quately resolved, we sometimes get that effect, so well described 
by Glcnway Wescott, of "embarrassed passion and hinted 


Philip Rahv 

meaning in excess of the narrated facts; the psychic content is 
too great for its container of elegantly forged happenings; it 
all overflows and slops about and is magnificently wasted." On 
this side of James we touch upon his relationship to Hawthorne, 
whose characters, likewise tempted by "experience," are held 
back by the fear of sin. And Hawthorne's ancestral idea of sin 
survives in James, though in a secularized form. It has entered 
the sensibility and been translated into a revulsion, an exasper- 
ated feeling, almost morbid in its sensitiveness, against any con- 
ceivable crudity of scene or crudity of conduct. (The trouble 
with American life, he wrote, is not that it is "ugly" — the ugly 
can be strange and grotesque — but that it is "plain"; "even na- 
ture, in the western world, has the peculiarity of seeming rather 
crude and immature.") Any failure of discrimination is sin, 
whereas virtue is a. compound of intelligence, moral delicacy, 
and the sense of the past. 

And Hawthorne's remembrance of the religious mythology 
of New England and his fanciful concern with it is replaced in 
James — and this too is a kind of transmutation — by the re- 
membrance and fanciful concern with history. It was for the 
sake of Europe's historical "opulence" that he left his native 
land. Yet this idea is also managed by him in a contradictory 
fashion, and for this reason W. C. Brownell was able to say that 
he showed no real interest in the "course of history." Now, as a 
critic, Brownell had no eye for James's historical picture of the 
American experience in Europe; but it is true that on the whole 
James's sense of history is restricted by the point of view of the 
"passionate pilgrim" who comes to enrich his personality. Thus 
there is^mo^ccja^th^ 

y^t_ irreproachable standard, a beautiful^ display^ a treasured 
background, whose function is at once to ado rn and lend p er- 
spective tojrns welT^nighjnctaphysical probing of personal rela- 
tions, of the private life. There never was a writer so immersed 
in personal relations, and his consistency in this respect implies 
an antihistorical attitude. This helps to explain the peculiarities 
of his consciousness, which is intellectual yet at the same time 
indifferent to general ideas, deeply comprehensive yet unat- 
tached to any open philosophical motive. 


The Question of Henry James 

These contradictions in James — and there arc others besides 
those I have mentioned — are chiefly to be accounted for in 
terms of his situation as an American writer who experienced 
his nationality and the social class to which he belonged at once 
as an ordeal and as an inspiration. His characteristic themes all 
express this doublcncss. The "great world" is corrupt, yet it 
represents an irresistible goal. Innocence points to all the wanted 
things one has been deprived of, yet it is profound in its good 
faith and not to be tampered with without loss. History and 
culture are the supreme ideal, but why not make of them a 
strictly private possession? Europe is romance and reality and 
civilization, but the spirit resides in America. James never fal- 
tered in the maze of these contraries; he knew how to take hold 
of them creatively and weave them into the web of his art. And 
the secret of their combination is the secret of his irony and of 
his humor. 




This table of biographical and critical studies is reprinted 
from American Writers Series: Henry James — Representative 
Selections, with Introduction, Bibliography, and Notes by Lyon 
N. Richardson, Copyright 1941, by American Book Company. 

Arvin, Newton. "Henry James and the Almighty Dollar," Hound ci* 

Horn, VII, 434-43 (April-May, 1934). 
Baker, Ernest A. The History of the English Novel. London: 1938, 

IX, 243-287. 
Beach, Joseph Warren. "Henry James," in The Cambridge History 

of American Literature. New York: c.1921, III, 96-108; IV, 671-75. 
Beach, Joseph "Warren. The Method of Henry James. New Haven: 

1918; also London: 191S. (Original, elaborate, invaluable study 

of technique.) 
Beach, Joseph Warren. "The Novel from James to Joyce," Nation, 

CXXXII, 634-36 (June io, 193 1). 
Beach, Joseph Warren. "Subjective Drama: James," "Point of 

View: James," "Point of View: James and Others," "Point of View: 

James, Stendhal," in The Twentieth Century Novel: Studies in 

Technique. New York: c.1932, pp. 177-92, 193-203, 204-17, 218- 

Beer, Thomas. "The Princess Far Away," Saturday Review of Litera- 
ture, I, 701-02, 707 (April 25, 1925). 
Bennett, Arnold. "Henry James," in Books and Persons: Being 

Comments on a Past Epoch: 1908-1911. New York: c.1917, pp. 

Bennett, Arnold. "Henry James," in Things That Have Interested 

Me. First series. New York: 192 1, pp. 323-32. " 


Bennett, Arnold. "Two Reputations," in Savour of Life: Essays in 
Gusto. New York: 1928, pp. 117-21. 

Benson, Arthur Christopher. "Henry James," Cornhill Magazine, 
N.s. XL, 511-19 (April, 19 16). (Enlightening and authoritative 
remarks by a friend of many years.) 

Benson, Arthur Christopher. "Henry James," in Memories and 
Friends. New York: 1924, pp. 214-28. 

Benson, Arthur Christopher. "Lamb House, Rye," in Rambles 
and Reflections. New York: 1926, pp. 29-37; also London: 1926. 
(Intimate glimpses of James at work.) 
\y Bethurum, Dorothy. "Morality and Henry James," Sewanee Re- 
view, XXXI, 324-30 (July, 1923). 

Bicknell, Percy F. "Mr. James's Memories of Boyhood," Dial, LIV, 
372-74 (May 1, 1 9 1 3 ) . 

Blackmur, Richard P. "Introduction," to The Art of the Novel: 
Critical Prefaces, by Henry James. New York and London: 1934, 
pp. vii-xxxix. (Collection and organization of ideas which James 
had expressed in star-scattered fashion throughout his Prefaces.) 

Blackmur, Richard P. "The Critical Prefaces," Hound &- Horn, 
VII, 444-77 (April-May, 1934). 

Bogan, Louise. "Henry James on a Revolutionary Theme," Nation, 
CXLVI, 471-74 (April 23, 1938). 

Bosanquet, Theodora. "Henry James," Fortnightly Review, n.s. 
CI, 995-1009 (June, 1917); Living Age, CCXCIV, 346-57 (Au- 
gust 11, 1917) ; Bookman (New York), XLV, 571-81 (August, 

Bosanquet, Theodora. Henry fames at Work. London: 1924. (The 
author was James's stenographer through a period of years;, her re- 
marks are highly informative.) 

Bosanquet, Theodora. "The Record of Henry James," Yale Review, 
n.s. X, 143-56 (October, 1920). 

Boughton, Alice. "A Note by His Photographer," Hound &- Horn, 
VII, 478-79 (April-May, 1934). 

Bowen, Edwin V. "Henry James, the Realist: An Appreciation," 
Methodist Review, CI (Fifth series, XXXIV), 410-19 (May, 1918). 

Boyd, Ernest Augustus. "Henry James," in Literary Blasphemies. 
New York and London: 1927, pp. 213-26. 

Bradford, Gamaliel. "Henry James," in American Portraits: 1 S/5- 
1^00. New York: 1922, pp. 171-96. 

Bradford, Gamaliel. "Portrait of Henry James," North American 
Review, CCXIII, 211-24 (February, 1921). 



Bragdon, Claude. "The Figure in Mr. James's Carpet," Critic, XLIV, 

146-50 (February, 1904). 
Bragdon, Claude. "A Master of Shades," Critic, XLVI, 20-22 (Janu- 
ary, 1905). 
Brewster, Dorothy, and Burrell, Angus. "Paris and the Puritan," 

in Dead Reckonings in Fiction. New York: 1924, pp. 19-41. 
Brooks, Sydney. "Henry James at Home," Harper's Weekly, XLVIII, 

1548-40 (October 8, 1904). 
Brooks, Van Wyck. "Henry James: An International Episode," Dial, 

LXXV, 225-38 (September, 1923). 
Brooks, Van Wyck. "Henry James as a Reviewer," in Sketches in 

Criticism. New York: c.1932, pp. 190-96. 
Brooks, Van Wyck. "Henry James of Boston," Saturday Review of 

Literature, XXII, 3-4 (July 13, 1940). V 

Brooks, Van Wyck. "Henry James: The American Scene," Dial, 

LXXV, 29-42 (July, 1923). 
Brooks, Van Wyck. "Henry James: The First Phase," Dial, LXXIV, 

433-50 (May, 1923). 
Brooks, Van Wyck. The Pilgrimage of Henry James. New York: 

1925. (Development of the man-without-a-country psychological 

explanation of the nature of James.) 
Brown, Ivor. "The Tragic Muse — Adapted by Hubert Griffith from 

the novel of Henry James," Saturday Review, CXLVI, 14 (July 7, 

Brownell, William Crary. "Henry James," in American Prose 

blasters: Cooper — Hawthorne — Emerson — Poe — Lowell — Henry 

James. New York: 1909, pp. 339-400. 
Brownell, William Crary. "Henry James," Atlantic Monthly, 

XCV, 496-519 (April, 1905). 
Brownell, William Crary. "James's Portrait of a Lady," Nation, . 

XXXIV, 102-03 (February 2, 1882). 
Buchanan, Robert. "The Modern Young Man as Critic," Universal 

Review, III, 355-59 (March, 1889). 
Burrell, John Angus. "Henry James: A Rhapsody of Youth," Dial, 

LXIII, 260-62 (September 27, 1917). 
Burton, Richard. "Bjornson, Daudct, James: A Study in the Literary 

Time-Spirit," in Literary Likings. Boston: 1898, pp. 107-09; 122-28. 
Bynner, Witter. "A Word or Two with Henry James," Critic, 

XLVI, 146-48 (February, 1905). 
Cairns, William B. "Character-Portrayal in the Work of Henry 

[*8 3 ] 


James," University of Wisconsin Studies in Language and Literature, 
no. 2. Madison, Wisconsin: 191 8, pp. 314-22, 

Cairns, William B. "Meditations of a Jacobite," Dial, LX, 313-16 
(March 30, 1916). 

Canby, Henry Seidel. "Henry James," in Definitions: Essays in 
Contemporary Criticism. First series. New York: c.1922, pp. 278-81. 

Canby, Henry Seidel. "Henry James," Hat per* s Weekly, LXII, 291 
(March 25, 1916). 

Cantwell, Robert. "A Little Reality," Hound &~ Horn, VII, 494- 
505 (April-May, 1934). 

Cantwell, Robert. "The Return of Henry James," New Republic, 
LXXXI, 1 19-21 (December 12, 1934). 

Cary, Elisabeth Luther. "Henry James," ScribneSs Magazine, 
XXXVI, 394-400 (October, 1904). 

Cary, Elisabeth Luther. The Novels of Henry James: A Study. 
With a Bibliography by Frederick A. King. New York and London: 

Cestre, Charles. "La France dans l'ccuvre de Henry James," Revue 
Anglo-Americaine,X, 1-13, 112-22 (October, 1932). 

Chaignon la Rose, Pierre de, ed. Notes and Reviews by Henry 
James. Cambridge, Mass.: 1921. (Collection of twenty- five early 
reviews appearing during the years 1864-66.) 

Chislett, William, Jr. "Henry James: His Range and Accomplish- 
ments," in Moderns and Near-Moderns: Essays on Henry James, 
Stockton, Shaw, and Others. New York: 1928, pp. 11-66. 

Clark, A. F. Bruce. "Henry James," University Magazine (Mon- 
treal), XVIII, 45-68 (February, 1919). 

Colby, Frank Moore. "In Darkest James," in Imaginary Obligations. 
New York: 1904, pp. 321-35. Same, in Essays of the Past and Pres- 
ent, compiled by Warner Taylor. New York: c. 1927, pp. 405-12. 

Colby, Frank Moore. "The Quccmess of Henry James," Bookman 
(New York), XV, 396-97 (June, 1902). 

Collins, Norman. "Henry James," in The Facts of Fiction. London: 
1932, pp. 228-36; also New York: c.1933. 

Conrad, Joseph. "Henry James: An Appreciation," North American 
Review, CLXXX, 102-08 (January, 1905); CCIII, 585-91 (April, 
191 6); also in Notes on Life and Letters. New York: 192 1, pp. 

Cooper, Frederick Taber. " 'The American Scene,' " North Ameri- 
can Review, CLXXXV, 214-18 (May 17, 1907). 



Cornelius, Roberta D. "The Clearness of Henry James,'* Scwanee 

Review, XXVII, 1-8 (January, 19 19). 
Croly, Herbert. "Henry James and His Countrymen," Lamp, 

XXVIII, 47-53 (February, 1904). 
Cross, Wilbur Lucius. "Henry James and Impressionism," in The 

Development of the English Novel. New York: 1899, pp. 263-68. 
Dargan, E. Preston. "Henry James the Builder," New Republic, 

VII, 171-74 (J une J 7» i9 l6 )- 
Davray, Henry D. "Un deracinc Anglo-Amcricain: Henry James, 

d'apres sa correspondance," Mcrcure de France, CXLVI, 68-84 (Feb- 
ruary 15, 1921). 
de la Mare, Walter. "Henry James," Living Age, CCLXXXIX, 

122-25 (April 8, 1916). 
De Mille, George E. "Henry James," in Literary Criticism in 

America: A Preliminary Survey. New York: 193 1, pp. 158-81. 
Draper, Muriel. "I Meet Henry James," Harper's Magazine, CLVI, 

416-21 (March, 1928); also in Music at Midnight, New York: 

1929, pp. 87-96. 
Dunbar, Olivia Howard. "Henry James as a Lecturer," Critic, 

yXLVII, 24-25 (July, 1905). 
Dwight, H. G. "Henry James — 'in His Own Country,* " Putnam's 

Monthly, II, 164-70 (May, 1907); 433-42 (July, 1907). 
Edel, Leon. "The Exile of Henry James,'* University of Toronto 

Quarterly, II, 520-32 (July, 1933). 
Edel, Leon. Henry James: Les annces dramatiques. Paris: 193 1. 
Edel, Leon. "A Note on the Translations of H. James in France,*' 

Revue Anglo- Americaine, VII, 539-40 (August, 1930). 
Edel, Leon. The Prefaces of Henry fames. Paris: 193 1. 
Edgar, Pelham. "The Art of Henry James," National Review, 

lxxxiii, 730-39 (July, 1924). 

Edgar, Pelham. "Henry James and His Method," Proceedings and 

Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, Series III; XII, Section 

II, 225-40 (December, 1918, March, 1919). 
Edgar, Pelham. Henry James: Man and Author. London: 1927; also 

New York: 1927. (Standard descriptive and critical biography.) 
Edgar, Pelham. "Henry James, the Essential Novelist," Queen's 

Quarterly, XXXIX, 181-92 (May, 1932). 
Edgar, Pelham. "The Letters of Henry James," Queen's Quarterly, 

XXVIII, 283-87 (January, 192 1). 
Edgar, Pelham. "Three Novels of Henry James,", Dalhousie Review, 

IV, 467-75 (January, 1925). 



Egan, 'Maurice Francis. "The Revelation of an Artist in Literature," 
Catholic World, CXI, 289-300 (June, 1920). 

Elton, Oliver. "The Novels of Mr. Henry James," Living Age, 
CCXL, 1-14 (January 2, 1904); also in Modern Studies. London: 
1907, pp. 245-84; also New York: 1907. 

Fawcett, Edgar. "Henry James's Novels," Princeton Review, n.s. 
XIV, 68-86 (July, 1884). 

Fergusson, Francis. "The Drama in The Golden Bowl," Hound 6- 
Horn, VII, 407-13 (April-May, 1934). 

Fieldixc, H. M. "Henry James, the Lion," Reader, V, 364-67 (Febru- 
ary, 1905). 

Follett, Helen Thomas, and Follett, Wilson. "Henry James," 
Atlantic Monthly, CXVII, Soi-ii (June, 1916). 

Follett, Helen Thomas, and Follett, Wilson. "Henry James," 
in Some Modern Novelists: Appreciations and Estimates. New York: 
1918, pp. 75-98. 

Follett, Wilson. "Henry James's Portrait of Henry James," New 
York. Times Book Review, pp. 2, 16 (August 23, 1936). (Offers 
the thesis that The' Sacred Fount illustrates James's distinction be- 
tween life and literature.) 

Follett, Wilson. "The Simplicity of Henry James," American Re- 
view, I, 315-25 (May -June, 1923). 

Forbes, Elizabeth Livermore. "Dramatic Lustrum: A Study of the 
Effect of Henry James's Theatrical Experience on His Later Novels," 
Nciv England Quarterly, XI, 108-20 (March, 1938). 

Ford, Ford Madox. — See also Hueffer, Ford Madox. 

Ford, Ford Madox. "Henry James: the Master," in Portraits from 
Life. New York: 1937, pp. 1-20; also in American Mercury, 
XXXVI, 315-27 (November, 1935). 

Ford, Ford Madox. "Three Americans and a Pole," Scribner's Maga- 
zine, XC, 3 79- S6 (October, 193 1). (As a personal friend of James, 
Ford's anecdotes and comments arc interesting.) 

Ford, Ford Madox. "Techniques," Southern Review, I, 20-35 (1935- 

France, Wilmer Cave. "Henry James as a Lecturer," Bookman 
(New. York), XXI, 71-72 (March, 1905). 

Freeman, John. "Henry James," in The Moderns: Essays in Literary 
Criticism. New York: 1917, pp. 219-41; also London: 1916". 

Fullerton, Morton. "The Art of Henry James," Quarterly Review 



(London), CCXII, 393-408 (April, 1910); Living Age, CCLXV, 

643-52 (June 11, 1910). 
Garland, Hamlin. "Henry James at Rye," in Roadside Meetings. 

New York: 1930, pp. 454-65. (Detailed account of Garland's visit 

at Rye.) 
Garland, Hamlin. "Roadside Meetings of a Literary Nomad; Lover 

of America" (Sections LXXVII-LXXX), Bookman (New York), 

LXXI, 4*7-3 2 (J ul y> I ^3°)- 
Gide, Andre. "Henry James," Yale Review, XIX, 641-43 (March, 

Gill, W. A. "Henry James and His Double," Atlantic Monthly, C, 

458-66 (October, 1907); Fortnightly Review, n.s. LXXXVI, 689- 

700 (October, 1909). 
Gilman, Lawrence. "Henry James in Reverie," North American 

Review, CCVII, 130-35 (January, 1918). 
Gosse, Edmund. "Henry James," London Mercury, I, 673-84 (April, 

1920), II, 29-41 (May, 1920). (Mr. Gosse was a good friend of 

James; his articles are trustworthy and based on first-hand knowl- 
Gosse, Edmund. "Henry James," Scrihner's Magazine, LXVII, 422- 

30, 54S-57 (April-May, 1920). 
Gosse, Edmund. "Henry James," in Aspects and Impressions. New 

York: 1922, pp. 17-53; a ^ so London: 1922. 
Grattan, Clinton Hartley. "The Calm within the Cyclone," Na- 

tion, CXXXIV, 201-03 (February 17, 1932). 
Grattan, Clinton Hartley. "Henry James," in The Three Jameses: 

A Family of Minds. New York: 1932, pp. 208-357. (Indispensable.) 
Greene, Graham. "Henry James," in The English Novelists, Derek 

Vcrschoyle, ed. London: 1936, pp. 215-28. 
Greene, Graham. "Henry James — An Aspect," in Contemporary 

Essays, Sylva Norman, ed. London: 1933, pp. 65-75. 
Gregory, Alyse. "A Superb Brief," in American Criticism: 1926, 

William A. Drake, ed. New York: c.1926, pp. 95-100. 
Gretton, M. Sturge. "Mr. Henry James and His Prefaces," Con- 
temporary Review, CI, 69-78 (January, 19 12); Living Age, 

CCLXXII, 287-95 (February 3, 19 12). 
Guedalla, Philip. "The Crowner's Quest," Nciv Statesman, XII, 421- 

22 (February 15, 1919). 
Hackett, Francis. "Henry James," and "A Stylist on Tour," in 

Horizons: A Book of Criticism. New York: 19 18, pp. 74-82, 268- 



73. "A Stylist on Tour" appeared previously, New Republic, II, 
320-21 (May 1, 1915)* 

Hale, Edward E. "Henry James," Dial, LX, 259-62 (March 16 , 

Hale, Edward E. "The Impressionism of Henry James," Faculty 
Papers of Union College, II, 3-17 (January, 193 1). 

Hamilton, Clayton. "Disengaged," Forum, XLI, 342-43 (April, 

Hapgood, Norman. "Henry James," Bachelor of Arts, III, 477-88 
(October, 1896). 

Hapgood, Norman. "Henry James," in Literary Statesmen and 
Others: Essays on Men Seen from a Distance. Chicago: 1897, pp. 

Harkins, E. F. "Henry James," in Famous Authors (Men). Boston: 
c.1901, pp. 91-105. 

Harland, Henry. "Mr. Henry James," Academy, LV, 339-40 (No- 
vember 26 , 1898). 

Harris, Joel Chandler. "Provinciality in Literature — a Defence of 
*' Boston," in Joel Chandler Harris: Editor and Essayist: Miscellaneous 
Literary, Political, and Social Writings, Julia Collier Harris, cd. 
Chapel Hill, N. C: 193 1, pp. 186-91. 

Hartwick, Harry. "Caviar to the General," in TJjc Foreground of 
America?! Fiction. New York: c.1934, pp. 341-6S. 

Harvitt, Helens. "How Henry James Revised Roderick Hudson: 
A Study in Style," Publications of the Modem Language Associa- 
tion, XXXIX, 203-27 (March, 1924). 

Havens, Raymond D. "The Revision of Roderick Hudson," Publica- 
tions of the Modern Language Association, XL, 433-34 (June, 

Hays, H. R. "Henry James, the Satirist," Hound &> Horn, VII, 514- 
22 (April-May, 1934). 

Hellman. George S. "Stevenson and Henry James, The Pvare Friend- 
ship Between Two Famous Stylists," Century, n.s. LXXXIX, 336- 
45 (January, 1926). 

Herrick, Rodert. "Henry James," in American Writers on American 
Fiction, J. C. Macy, cd. New York: c.1931, pp. 29S-316. 

Herrick, Robert. "Tolstoi and Henry James," Yale Review, N.s. XII,. 
181-S6 (October, 1922). 

Herrick, Robert. "A Visit to Henry James," in The Manly Anni- 
versary Studies in Language and Literature. Chicago: 1923, pp. 229- 
42; Yale Review, N.s. XII, 724-41 (July, 1923), n.s. XIII, 206-08 



(October, 1923). (Contains important references to the changes 

in James's style when he began dictation.) 
Hicks, Granville. ''Fugitives," in The Great Tradition: An Interpre- 
tation of American Literature Since the Civil War. New York: 

J 933> PP- IOO > 105-24. 
Higginson, T. W. "Henry James, Jr.," in Short Studies of American 

Authors. Boston: 1880, pp. 51-60. Originally in The Literary 

World, X, 383-84 (November 22, 1879). (One of the best early 

contemporary evaluations.) 
Hind, Charles Lewis. "Henry James," in Authors and I. New York: 

1921, pp. 161-65. 
Holliday, Robert Cortes. "Henry James, Himself," in Walking- 

Stick Papers. New York: c.1918, pp. 121-29. 
Howells, William Dean. "Editor's Study," Harper's New Monthly 

Magazine, LXXVII, 799-800 (October, 1888). (Howells was an 

early friend and close literary adviser; his comments arc informed 

by intimate acquaintanceship and sound judgment.) 
Howells, William Dean. "Henry James, Jr.," Century, n.s. Ill, 

25-29 (November, 1882).. 
Howells, William Di an. "Mr. Henry James's Later Work," North 

American Review, CLXXVI, 125-37 (January, 1903) ; CCIII, 572- 

84 (April, 1916). 
Howells, William Dean. "Mr. James's Masterpiece," Harper's Ba- 
zaar, XXXVI, 9-14 (January, 1902). (Treats of Daisy Miller.) 
Howells, William Dean. "James's Passionate Pilgrim and Other 

Tales," Atlantic Monthly, XXXV, 490-95 (April, 1875). 
Hueffer, Ford Madox. — Sec also Ford, Ford Madox. 
Hueffer, Ford Madox. Henry James: A Critical Study. New York: 

19 1 6. (Hueffer was well acquainted with James in England.) 
Hueffer, Ford Madox. "Two Americans — Henry James and Stephen 

Crane," Literary Review, I, 1-2 (March 19, 1921), 1-2 (March 26, 

Hughes, Herbert L. T/jcory and Practice in Henry James. Ann 

Arbor: 1926. 
Huneker, James Gibbons. "The Lesson of the Master," Bookman 

(New York), LI, 364-68 (May, 1920). 
Huneker, James Gibbons. "A Note on Henry James," in Unicorns. 

New York: 19 17, pp. 53-66. Also in Modern English Essays, Ernest 

Rhys, ed. New York: 1922, V, 64-76. 
James, Henry. "The Ambassadors: Project of Novel" (Edna Kenton, 




ed.)» Hound &- Horn, VII, 541-62 (April-May, 1934). (Throws 
light on James's creative procedure; a partial printing of the un- 
published MS. James sent Harper & Brothers in September, 1900.) 
James, Henry. "A Letter to Mr. Howells," North American Review, 

CXCV, 558-62 (April, 1912). 
James, Henry. "Two Unpublished Letters," Hound 6* Horn, VII, 

414-16 (April-May, 1934). 
Johnson, Arthur. "A Comparison of Manners," Neiv Republic, XX, 

113-15 (August 27, 1919). 
Jones, Dora M. "Henry James," London Quarterly Review, CXXVI, 
117-20 (July, 1916). 

elley, Cornelia Pulsifer. "The Early Development of Henry 

James," in University of Illinois Studies in Language and Literature, 

XV, nos. 1-2. Urbana: 1930. (Indispensable, careful, elaborate, 

sound, authoritative.) 

Kenton, Edna. "Henry James and Mr. Van Wyck Brooks," Bookman 

(New York), LXII, 153-57 (October, 1925). 

Kenton, Edna. "Henry James in the World," "Some Bibliographical 

Notes on Henry James," "The Ambassadors: Project of Novel," 

Hound Cj> Horn, VII, 506-13, 535-40, 541-62 (April-May, 1934). 

Kenton, Edna. "Henry James to the Ruminant Reader: The Turn 

of the Screw" Arts, VI, 245-55 (November, 1924). 
Kenton, Edna. "The 'Plays' of Henry James," Theatre Arts Monthly, 

XII, 347-52 (May, 1928). 
Knight, Grant Cochran. "The Triumph of Realism: Henry James," 

in The Novel in English. .New York: 193 1, pp. 276-87. 
Knights, L. C "Henry James and the Trapped Spectator," Southern 

Rcvieiv, IV, 600-15 (Winter, 1938). 
Larrabee, Harold A. "The Jameses: Financier, Heretic, Philosopher," 

American Scholar, I, 401-13 (October, 1932). 
Leach, Anna. "Henry James: An Appreciation," Forum, LV, 551-64 

(May, 1916). 
Lee, Vernon. — See Paget, Violet. 
Leighton, Lawrence. "Armor against Time," Hound &- Horn, VII, 

373-84 (April-May, 1934). 
Lewis, J. H. "The Difficulties of Henry James," Poet Lore, XXXIX, 

117-1.9 (Spring, 1928). 
Lewis, Wyndham. "Henry James: The Arch-Enemy of 'Low Com- 
pany,' " in Men Without Art. London: 1934, pp. 138-57. 
Littell, Philip. "Books and Things," New Republic, III, 234 (July 



3, 19x5), VI, 191 (March 18, 1916), XIII, 254 (December 29, 

Littell, Philip. "Henry James as Critic," New Republic, I, 26-28 

(November 21, 1914). 
Littell, Philip. "Henry James's Quality," and " 'Middle Years,' " 

in Books and T lyings. New York: 19 19, pp. 215-23, 224-29. "Henry 

James's Quality" appeared previously, New Republic, VI, 152-54 

(March 11, 19 16). 
Logan, M. "Henry James," Nation, LVII, 416-17 (November 30, 

Loomis, Charles Battell. "An Attempt to Translate Henry James," 

Bookman (New York), XXI, 464-66 (July, 1905). 
Lubbock, Percy. The Craft of Fiction. New York: 1921, see index; 

also London: 1921. (An outstanding critical study of fiction.) 
Lubbock, Percy. "Henry James," Quarterly Review (London), 

CCXXVI, 60-74 (July, 1916); Living Age, CCXC, 733-42 (Sep- 
tember 16, 19 1 6). 
Lynd, Robert. "Henry James," in Old and New Masters. New York: 

1919, pp. 70-85. 
MacCarthy, Desmond. "Henry James," in Portraits. New York: 

1932, pp. 149-69. 
MacCarthy, Desmond. "Money, Birth and Henry James," New 

Statesman, IX, 375-76 (July 21, 19 17). 
MacCarthy, Desmond. "Mr. Henry James and His Public," Inde- 
pendent Review (London), VI, 105-10 (May, 1905). 
MacCarthy, Desmond. "The World of Henry James," Life and 

Letters, V, 352-65 (November, T930); Living Age, CCCXXXIX, 

491-98 (January, 193 1); Saturday Review of Literature, VIII, 81- 

83 (August 29, 193 1 ). 
Macdonell, Annie. "Henry James," Bookman (New York), IV, 

20-22 (September, 1896); reprinted as "Henry James as a Critic," 

XLIII, 219-22 (April, 1916). 
McGill, Anna Blanche. "Henry James, Artist," Poet Lore, XVI, 

90-96 (Winter, 1905). 
McGill, V. J. "Henry James: Master Detective," Bookman (New 

York), LXXII, 251-56 (November, 1930). 
McLane, James. "A Henry James Letter," Yale Review, n.s. XIV, 

205-08 (October, 1924). 
Macy, John Albert. "Henry James," in The Spirit of American Lit- 

erature. New York: 19 13, pp. 324-39. 



Marsh, Edward Clark. "James: Auto-Critic," Bookman (New 

York), XXX, 138-43 (October, 1909). 
Matthews, Brander. "Henry James and the Theatre," in Playwrights 

011 PlaymahJng, art J Of her Studies of the Stage. New York and 

London: 1923, pp. 187-204; Bookman (New York), LI, 389-95 

(June, 1920). (Discusses eight plays by James.) 
Miciiaud, Regis. "Henry James . . . ," in The American Novel To- 

day: A Social end Psychological Study. Boston: 1928, pp. 47-54. 

(Offers the man-without-a-country psychological interpretation of 

James's characteristics.) 
Michaud, Regis. "William et Henry James d'apres leur correspond- 

ance," Revue de France, 141-59 (September, 1922). 
Moore, Marianne. "Henry James as a Characteristic American," 

Hound Ci> Horn, VII, 363-72 (April-May, 1934). 
Morgan, Louise. "The Weakness of Henry James," Outlook (Lon- 
don), LVII, 89 (February 6, 1926). 
Moses, Montrose J. "Henry James as a Letter Writer," Outlook, 

CXXV, 167-68 (May 26, 1920). 
Moult, Thomas. "Dedicated to Art," English Review/, XXXI, 183-86 

(August, 1920). 
Nadal, ElirmaN Syme. "Personal Recollections of Henry James," 

Scribncr's Magazine, LXVIII, 89-97 (J u ^y> 1920). 
Newburgh, M. L. H. "Mr. Henry James, Jr., and His Critics," Liter- 

ary World, XIII, 10- 11 (January 14, 18S2). 
Noble, James Ashcroft. "Partial Portraits," Academy, XXXIII, 

406-07 (June 16, 1888). 
Orage, Alfred Richard. "Henry James," in Readers and Writers 

(1917-7-921). New York: 1922, pp. 9-13. 
Orcutt, William Dana. "Celebrities Off Parade: Henry James," 

Christian Science Monitor, XXVI, 12 (August 24, 1934). 
Orcutt, William Dana. "Friends Through Type," in In Quest of 

the Perfect Book: Reminiscences and Reflections of a Bookman. 

Boston: 1926, pp. 73-107. 
Paget, Violet. "The Handling of Words: Meredith, Henry James," 

English Review, V, 427-41 (June, 1910). 
Parrington, Vernon Louis. "Henry James and the Nostalgia of 

Culture," in Main Currents in American Thought. New York: 1930, 

III, 239-41. (One of the best among the short, critically disparaging 

Pattee, Fred L. "Following the Civil War," in The Development of 

the American Short Story. New York: 1923, pp. 191-208. 


Pennell, Joseph. "In London with Henry James," Century, Oil, 
543-48 (February, 1922). 

Perry, Bliss. Commemorative Tribute to Henry James. Academy 
Notes and Monographs. New York: 1922. (Prepared for the Ameri- 
can Academy of Arts and Letters.) 

Perry, Ralph Barton. "Henry James in Italy," Harvard Graduate 
Magazine, XLI, 189-200 (June, 1933). 

Perry, Ralph Barton. The Thought and Character of Henry James. 
2 vols. Boston: 1935; see index, II, 778. 

Phelps, William Lyon. "Henry James," Yale Reviciv, n.s. V, 783- 
97 (July, 1916). 

Phelps, William Lyon. "Henry James: America's Analytical Novel- 
ist," Ladies' Home Journal, XL, 23, 174-75 (November, 1923). 

Phelps, William Lyon. "Henry James, Reviewer," Literary Review, 
I, 4 (June 4, 1921). 

Phelps, William Lyon. "James," in Hcnuells, James, Bryant and 
Other Essays. New York: 1924, pp. 123-55. 

Phillips, LeRoy, ed. Views and Reviews by Henry James. Boston: 
1908. (A most serviceable collection.) 

Pound, Ezra. "Henry James," in Instigations. New York: 1920, pp. 
106-67; also in Make It New: Essays by Ezra Pound. New Haven: 
1935, pp. 251-307. (Valuable. Elaborate outline of ideas and tech- 
nique used by James in developing The Ivory Tower; see especially 
Instigations, pp. 159-67.) 

Powys, John Cowper. "Henry James," in Suspended Judgments: 
Essays on Books and Sensations. New York: 19 16, pp. 367-98. 

Pratt, Cornelia Atwood. "Evolution of Henry James," Critic, n.s. 
XXXI, 338-42 (April, 1899). 

Preston* Harriet Waters. "The Europeans," Atlantic Monthly, 
XLIII, 106-08 (January, 1879). 

Preston, Harriet Waters. "The Latest Novels of Howells and 
James," Atlantic Monthly, XCI, 77-82 (January, 1903). 

Preston, Harriet Waters. "Mr. James's American on the London 
Stage," Atlantic Monthly, LXVIII, 846-48 (December, 1891). 

Quinn, Arthur Hobson. "Henry James and the Fiction of Interna- 
tional Relations," in American Fiction: An Historical and Critical 
Survey. New York and London: c.1936, pp. 279-304. 

Randell, Wilfrid L. "The Art of Mr. Henry James," Fortnightly 
Review, N.s. XCIX, 620-32 (April, 19 16). 

Randell, Wilfrid L. "Henry James as Humanist," Fortnightly Re- 
view, N.S. CX, 458-69 (September, 1921). 



Raymond, E. T., pseud. See Thompson, E. R. 

Read, Herbert. "Henry James," in The Sense of Glory: Essays in 

Criticism. New York: 1930, pp. 206-08. 
Roberts, Morley. "Meetings with Some Men of Letters," Queen's 

Quarterly, XXXIX, 65-70 (February, 1932). 
Roberts, Morris. Henry James's Criticism, Cambridge, Mass.: 1929; 

also London: 1929. (Indispensable study of James's critical essays.) 
Roscoe, E. S. "Henry James at the Reform Club," Bookman (New 

York), LX, 584-85 (January, 1925). 
Rourke, Constance. "The American," in American Humor: A 

Study of the National Character. New York: c.1931, pp. 235-65. 
Sampson, George. "Letters in Criticism," Bookman (London), LVIII, 

76-77 (May, 1920). 
Schellinc, Felix Emmanuel. "Some Forgotten Tales of Henry 

James," in Appraisements and Asperities as to So?ne Contemporary 

Writers. New York: 1922, pp. 169-74. 
Schuyler, Montgomery. "Henry James's Short Stories," Lamp, 

XXVI, 231-35 (April, 1903). 
Scott, Dixon. "Henry James," Bookman (London), XLIII, 299- 

306 (March, 191 3). 
Scott, Dixon. "Henry James," in Men of Letters. London: 19 16, pp. 

78-1 10. 
Scudder, Horace E. "A Few Story-Tellers, Old and New," Atlantic 

Monthly, LXXII, 693-99 (November, 1893). 
Scudder, FIorace E. "James, Crawford, and Howells," Atlantic 

Monthly, LVII, 850-57 (June, 1886). 
Scudder, Horace E. "The Portrait of a Lady and Dr. Breen's Prac- 
tice ," Atlantic Monthly, XLIX, 126-30 (January, 1882). 
Scudder, FIorace E. "Review of The Tragic Muse," Atlantic 

Monthly, LXVI, 419-22 (September, 1890). 
Sherman, Stuart Pratt. "The Aesthetic Idealism of Henry James," 

in On Contemporary Literature. New York: 19 17, pp. 226-55; also 

Nation, CIV, 393-99 (April 5, 19 17). (An able, acute study.) 
Sherman, Stuart Pratt. "Henry James," in The Columbia University 

Course in Literature. New York: 1929, XVIII, 218-33. 
Sherman, Stuart Pratt. "The Special Case of Henry James," in 

The Emotional Discovery of America. New York: c.1932, pp. 35-47.- 
Smith, Janet Adam. "Henry James and R. L. Stevenson," London 

Mercury, XXXIV, 412-20 (September, 1936). 
Snell, Edwin Marion. The Modern Tables of Henry fames. Cam- 
bridge, Mass.: 1935. 



Spender, Stephen. "Henry James,'* and "Henry James and the Con- 
temporary Subject," in The Destructive Element: A Study of Mod- 
em Writers and Beliefs. London: 1935, pp. 11-110, 189-200. 

Spender, Stephen. "A Modern Writer in Search of a Moral Subject," 
London Mercury, XXXI, 128-33 (December, 1934). 

Spender, Stephen. "The School of Experience in the Early Novels," 
Hound &■ Horn, VII, 417-33 (April-May, 1934). 

Squire, Sir John Colungs. "Henry James's Obscurity," in Books in 
General. London: 19 19, pp. 179-84. 

Swinnerton, Frank. "Artful Virtuosity: Henry James," in The 
Georgian Scene: A Literary Panorama. New York: c.1934, pp. 19- 

Taylor, Walter Fuller. "Fiction as Fine Art: Henry James (1S43- 

1916)," in A History of American Letters. New York: c.1936, pp. 

Thompson, E. R. "Henry James and Max Beerbohm," in Portraits of 

the New Century (The First Ten Years). New York: 1928, pp. 

Ticknor, Caroline. "Henry James's 'Bostonians,' " in Glimpses of 

Authors. Boston: 1922, pp. 243-56. 
Tilley, Arthur. "The New School of Fiction," National Review, I, 

257-68 (April, 1883). 
Tooker, L. Frank. "The Fiction of the Magazine," Century, N.s. 

LXXXVI, 260-71 (June, 1924). 
Troy, William. "Henry James and Young Writers," Bookman (New 

York), LXXIII, 351-58 (June, 1931). 
Underwood, John Curtis. "Henry James: F^xpatriate," in Literature 

and Insurgency: Ten Studies in Racial Evolution. . . . New York: 

1914, pp. 41-86. 
Van Doren, Carl. "Henry James," in The American Novel. New 

York: 1921, pp. 188-220. 
Vedder, Henry C. "Henry James," in American Writers of Today t 

Boston: 1894, pp. 69-86. 
Walbrook, H. M. "Henry James and the English Theater," Nine- 
teenth Century, LXXX, 141-45 (July, 1916); Living Age, CCXC, 

505-09 (August 19, 1916). 
Walbrook, H. M. "Henry James and the Theater," London Mercury, 

XX, 612-16 (October, 1929). 
Walbrook, H. M. "The Novels of Henry James," Fortnightly Re- 
view, n.s. CXXVII, 680-91 (May, 1930). 


Walkley, Arthur. Bingham. "Henry James and His Letters," Fort- 
nightly Review, n.s. CVII, 864-73 (J unc » 1920). 

Walkley, Arthur Bingham. "Henry James and the Theater," and 
"Talk at the Martello Tower," in 'Pastiche and Prejudice. London: 
1921, pp. 155-59, 206-10; also New York: 1921. 

"Warren, Austin. The Elder Henry James. New York: 1934. (In- 
cludes valuable sketch of the son's early life.) 

Warren, Austin. "James and His Secret," Saturday Review of Litera- 
ture, VIII, 759 (May 28, 1932). 

"Waterloo, S. P. "Memories of Henry James," New Statesman, XXVI, 
514-15 (February 6, 1932). 

Waterlow, S. P. "The Work of Mr. Henry James," Independent Re- 
view, IV, 236-43 (November, 1904). 

Waugh, Arthur. "The Art of Henry James," in Tradition and 
Change: Studies in Content porary Literature. New York: 19 19, pp. 
246-52; also London: 1919. 

West, Rebecca. Henry James. New York: 19 16. (Short, well-phrased 
study with clever thrusts.) 

West, Rebecca. "Reading Henry James in War Time," New Republic, 
II, 98-100 (February 27, 191 5). 

Westcott, Glenway. "A Sentimental Contribution," Hound &- 
Horn, VII, 523-34 (April-May, 1934). 

Wharton, Edith. "A Backward Glance," Ladies' Home Journal, LI, 
19, 73, 78, 80 (February, 1934). Also in A Backward Glance. New 
York: 1934, pp. 169-96. (Valuable comments and reminiscences by 
a novelist who knew James well.) 

Wharton, Edith. "Henry James in His Letters," Quarterly Review 
(London), CCXXXIV, 188-202 (July, 1920). 

Wheelwright, John. "Henry James and Stanford White," Hound 
(i> Horn, VII, 480-93 (April-May, 1934). 

White, J. William. "Professor White's Interpretation of Henry 
James's Action," Spectator, CXV, 204-05 (August 14, 1915). 

White, Richard Grant. "Recent Fiction," North American Review, 
CXXVIII, 101-06 (January, 1879). 

Whitford, Robert Calvin. "The Letters of Henry James," South 
Atlantic Quarterly, XIX, 371-72 (October, 1920). 

Williams, Orlo. "The Ambassadors," Criterion, VIII, 47-64 (Sep- 
tember, 1928). 

Wilson, Edmund. "The Ambiguity of Henry James," Hound &- 
Horn, Nil, 385-406 (April-May, 1934). Elaborated in The Triple 
Thinkers: Ten Essays on Literature. New York: c.1938, pp. 122-64. 

[i 9 6] 


(Develops thesis that "The Turn of the Screw" is a figment of the 

imagination of the narrator by reason of sex repression.) 
Wilson, Edmund. "The Exploration of James," Netv Republic, L, 

112-13 (March 16, 1927). 
Winters, Yvor. "Henry James and the Relation of Morals to Manners," 

American Review, IX, 482-503 (October, 1937). 
Wolff, Robert Lee. "The Genesis of The Turn of the Screw," 

American Literature, XIII, 1-8 (March, 1941). 
Wyatt, Edith Franklin. "Henry James: An Impression," in Great 

Companions. New York: 19 17, pp. 83-99; North American Review, 

CCIII, 592-99 (April, 1916). 
Young, Filson. "Bunch of Violets," English Revinu, XXII, 317-20 

(April, 1916). 
Zabel, M. D. "The Poetics of Henry James," Poetry: A Magazine of 

Verse, XLV, 270-76 (February, 1935). 


„. f 

Index of James Characters and Titles 

Acton, Mr. {The Europeans), \6% Bellegardcs, de, the {The American) , io8, 

Adney, Blanche {The Private Life), 204- 150, iji 

2oy Bench of Desolation, The, 187, 194, 259 

Aggie {The Awkward Age), ij Betterman, Mr. {The Ivory Tower), 189 

Alden, Bessie {An International Episode), Bilham, John Little {The Ambassadors), 

143 220, 226, 23a 

Altar of the Dead, The, 125, 270 Birdseye, Miss {The Bostonians), 120 

Ambassadors, The, 32, 36, j8, 84, 87, /uBlcssingbourne, Mrs. Maud {The Story in 

101, 102, 1 2 j, 126, 168, 182, 183, //), 97-0S 

i8j, 186, 192, 194, 216, 218-23$, a 3 8 » Bosfo'iians, The, 30, 90, 120, 141, 14J, 

268, 270 n.7, 171, 176, 177, 178 

American, The, 5, 30, 32, 87, 96, 108, Bradham, Ralph {The Sense of the Past), 

109, 117. J", 142, 14 5-1 J3, 154, 118 

1 5 S, i8j, 186, 214, 218, 223, 260 Bradhams, the {The Sense of the Past), 

American Scene, The, 117, 183, 184 118 

Amerigo, Prince {The Golden Bout), 88, Bread, Mrs. {The American), 151, 153 

103-104, 236-245 Brigstock, Mona {The Spoils of Poyn- 

Archcr, Isabel {The Portrait of a Lady), ton), 10 1, 103 

96, 98, 101, 102, 103, 142, 143, ij_j, Brigstock, Mrs. {The Spoils of Poynton), 

^i_2J*> *2}» 224, 25:7, 265, 268 101, 103 

Armiger, Rose (The Other House), 90 Brooke, Rupert, introduction to letters 

Art of the Novel, The. 212 of, 8 1 

Aspem Papers, Thr, 166, 170 Brookenham, Nanda {The Aw;kwarJ 

Assingham, Mrs. Fanny (The Golden A$e), ij, 16, 19, 96, 102, 103, 180, 

Bowl), 236, 237, 238, 241, 243, 244 l8 3 

Awkward Age, The, 1?, 14, ij, 16, 18, Brookenham, Mrs. {The Awkward Age), 

19, 20, 23, 77, 80, 96, 102, 103, 123, M. K, 102, 103 

124, 180, 181, 182, 183, 218, 276 Burrage, Mrs. {The Bostonians), 120 

Balzac, Honore de, essay on, 2 Casamassima, Princess {The Princess 

Barbcrina, Lady {Lady Barberina), 144 . Casamassima), .0. 

\,Bcast in the Jungle, The, 168, 223 Chancellor, Olive (The Bostonians), 167, 

Bcldonald Holbein, The, 97 
Bcldonald, Lady {The Bcldonald Hol- 
bein), 97 

171. 177 

Cintre\ Clair- de (The American), 109, 
148, 149, 150, 1 j 1, i $2, xj3 

t> •• j \t j 1 ,rr a v Condrip, Mrs. Marian {The 'Wings of the 

E«...cgarJc, Madame de {The American}, n~..,\ , 4 

r, m 4<J ' \ 49 + , ~, Confidence, '1 j 2, 168, 214 

Bc'legarde, Marqms de {The American), Corvick, George {The Figure in the Car. 

'jo. ML 153 /,<■/), ;oJ 

Bcllcgarde, Marquise de (77*? American), Covering End, 126, 181 

*** Coxon Fund, The, 229 

Bellcgarde, Valentin de {The American), Coyne, Aurora {The Sense of the Past), 

146, 147-148, 149, iji, 260 118 



Croy, Kat'j (The Wings of the Dove), Gsw, A'-ner (The Ivory Tower), 188, 

II, 13, 24, 3J, 102, 103, 144, 153, 189 

179, x8r., 193, 157 George Sand: Th: New Li'., 2, 20, 21 

Gereti, Mrs. (The Spoils of Poynton), 

Daisy Millers ;, 7, 8, 9, 32, yi, 70, 87, 101, 102-103 

ioi, no, 117, 120, 131, 143, ij2, Gereth, Owen (The Spoils of Poynton), 

160, I7;-I76, 1U7. 220, 260 103 

Dallow, Jrlia (The Tragic Muse), 101, Cio-hni (The Ambassadors), 223, 232, 

177, 175* 270 

Day, Pandora (V.-ndora), 143 Golden Bowl, The, 80, 84, 8 8, 89, 90, 

Dcane, Driyton (The Figure in the Car- 103-104, 125, 144, 154, 182, i3f, 

pet), 203 192, 194, 216, 233, 236-245, 257, 

y .Death of the Lio'. The. 70, P2, i2<, 262, 26$, 275, 277 

205-207 Goodwood, Caspar (TA* Portrait of a 

Dcnshef, Merton (The Wings of the <. Lady), 16' 68 

Dove), it, b8, 126, 144, 153, 1&2, Gostr:y, Man. (Th" Embassadors), 219, 

193 ^ 220, .-;*, 133 

Doane, George (Ti e Gre^t Good Place), Governess, the (The Turn of the Screw), 

208 160-165, 269 

Dodd, Herbert (7 he lS"uch of D< oh- Great Good Place, The, 208 

tion), 194 Greville Fine, 259 

Dormer, Nick (Toe Tragic Muse), 9C, Grose Mr (The Turn of the Screw), 

101, 17/, 179, i '\ 161-163 

Dosson, Ftancie (The reverberator), z.67 Guy Donrille, 106, 180 
Doubleday, Paul (The Rept abate), 161 

Duchess, :he (The American), 146-147 Harland, Henry (The Story-teller at 

Duchess, the (The Awkward Age), 15 Lary: Mr. Henry Harland), 132-133 

Hatch, C. P. (The American), X09 

Erme, Gwendolyn (The Figure in the Hawthorne, 131, 133-134, 135 

Carpet), 203' Hawthorne, Nathaniel, essay on, 114-115 

Essays: on Balzac, 2; on Flaubert, 2-3, Headv.ay, Mrs. (Roderick Hudson), 141 

174; on Hawthrrne, 114-115; 0:1 the Hudscn, Roderick (Roderick Hudson), 

new rovi!, 74; en George Sand, 2, 20, 32, 104, 117, 141-142, 223 

21; on the Tht aire Fran*; iis, 2; on 

/. Turgencv, 2, n.> Jn the Ce?,e> 79» 180, 258 

'/ Europeans, The, 34, 84, 87, 110, 117, International Episode, An, j, 122, 137, 

118, 141, 143, 144, 145, 168, 183 14.1, 143, 144, 187 

Ivory Tcnver, The, n8, 126, 183, 187, 

Fancourt, Mariar \The Lesson of the 188, ^89, 192 

Master), 208-2K 

Fane, Greville (Gn ville Fane), 259 Jcssel, Miss (The Turn of the Screw), 

Fa^ange, Maisie (What Maisie Knew), 1( s 4 

l8 3 \ jolly Corner, The, 186, 188 
Figure in the Carpet, The, 75, 82, 92, 

93, 94. 99, 123, 124, 126, 203, 204 La j y B a ,lerina, 144 

Finer Gran, The, 192 Lambeth, Lord (An International Epi- 

F.aubcrt, Gustavo, essay on, 2-3, 174 rod-) 

La Rcchcfidele, Madame de (The Ameri- 
can), 150 
Le .venwo, th, Mr. (Roderick Hudson), 
Vrenc'h Poets' an7 Novelists, 114, 21 S Le son of the Master, The, 33, 82, 199, 

Garland, Mary (Roderick Hudson), to/,. Letters of Henry Jamer. Thi, 14, j ; „ >8, 
117, 142, i^\ 6*>, *? 134, .211 


Flicker bridge, i6i 

Forbes, Dora (The Death of the Lion), 

2 07 
Ford ham Castle, 187 
Four Meetings, 144 


Let'crs: from London, 112; to Edith 

Wharton, 13 j; to William James, 136 
\Llar, The, 166 
Light, Christina (Roderick Hudson), 

Limb rt, Ray (The Next Time), 207, 

London Notes, 73 
Longdon, Mr. (The 'Awkward Age), 15, 

16, 19 
Longueville, Bernard (Confidence), 168 
Lowdcr, Mrs. (The Wings of the Dove), 

Madame de Mauves, 4, 87 

Madonna of the Future, The, 4, 72, 226 

Malictt, Pcwland (Ro^-^ick Hudson) 

I04, 117 
Marcher, John (The Beast in the Jun- 
gle), 223 
Mark, Lord (The Wings of the Dove), 

11, 15 
Marriages, The, 167 
Mauves, Madame de (Madame de 

Mauves), 87 
Mcllfont, Lord (The Private Life), 204- 

Merle, Madame (The Portrait of a 

Lady), 101,103,25;) 
Midmores, the (The Sense of the Past), 

Miller, Daisy (Diisy Miller), 8, 9, 32, 

101, 120, 143, 175-176, 187, 260 
Miller, Randolph (Daisy Miller), no 
Mitchett, Mr. (The Awkward Age), ij, 

96, 103 
Modern Warning, The, 144 

Nash, Gabriel (The Tragic Muse), 96, 

101 ' • 

Newman, Christopher (The American), 

30, 32, 96, 120, 142, 145-153, 185, 

186, 223, 260 
Ncwsome, Chad (The Ambassadors), 

101, 125, 219-220, 229, 231, 233, 235 
Ncwsome, Mrs. (The Ambassadors), 220, 

229, 230, 233 
Next Time, The, 82, 207, 208 
Niochc, Mademoiselle Not'mic (The 

American), 109, 147, 151 
Nona Vincent, 262 
Nota uf a Son and Brother, 81, ij.v, 

184, 225 
Notes on Novelists, 214 


Osmond, Gilbert (The Portrait of 4 
Lady), 101, 102, 103, 120, 257, 265 

Other House, The, 90, 181, 260, 261, 
261, 269 

Overt, Paul (The Lesson of the Master), 
208-2 10 

Packard, General (The American), 109 
Pandora, 143, 144 
Papers, The, 187 
iParaday, Neil (The Death of the Lion), 

Partial Portraits, 121 
Passionate Pilgrim, A, 90, 223 
Paste, 106 

Pension Beaurcpas, The, 256, 259 
Plays, 178; Guy Domtille, 106, 180; 

The Other House, 260, 261; The 

Reprobate, 260, 261-262 
Pocock, Jim (The Ambassadors), 220 
Pocock, Mamie (The Ambassadors), 220 
Pocock, Sarah (The Ambassadors), 220 
Poor Richard, 260 
Portrait of a Lcdy, The, 71, 96, 98, 99, 

101, 102, 103, 120, 142, 143, 153, 

158, 183, ioj, 218, 223. 224, 257", 

259, 265, 2 68^, 26 9 . - ■• — 

' r ~T r rincess Casamassima, The, 72, 101, 174, 

W7, 179, 1K9, 223 
Principino, the (The Golden Bowl), 238 
Private Life, The, 204-205 
Pupil, The, 260 

Qifinr, Peter (The Turn of the Screw), 

Ransom, Basil (The Bostonians), 17X, 

iRcal Thing, The, 5 1 
Reprobate, The, 260, 261-262 
Reverberator, The, 90, 167, 220 
Reviews: Drums of the Fore and Aft 

(Kipling), 106; Our Mutual Friend 

(Dickens), 265-266 
Robinson, Hyacinth (The Princess Cast' 

massinia), 101, 174, 177, i?o, 223 
Roderick Hudson, 32, 82, 103, 104, 

117, 141-142, 143, 2i}. 223, 2\2 
Foii:j,k\- of Certain Old Clothes, The, 4 
Rooth, Miriam (The Tragic Muse), 90, 

»)-, ior, 177, 178, 179, 180, 182 
Ruck, Mr. (The Pension Beaurepas), 

ij8, 2\9 



Sacred Fount, The, 12, 16, 17, 18, 20, 

13, .83, 84, 126, 169, 170, 171, 172, 

180, 181, 193, 218 
Sand, George, essay on, 2, 20. 21 
St. George, Henry (The Lesson of the 

Master), 208-210 
Searlc, Clement (A Passionate Pilgrim), 

Sense of the Vast, The, 116, 118, 126, 

183, 184, 192, i-y6 
Sherringham, Peter (The Tragic Mti:-.'), 

90, 101 
Sholto, Ca^iaiii (The Princess Casamas- 

sima), 72 
Slopcr, Dr. (Washington Square), t>o, 

Small Boy and Others, A, 265 

Spoils of Poynton, The, 90, 96, 98, ior, 

I02-I03, 123, 275 

Star.:, Charlotte (Vervcr) (The Golden 

f Bo:vl), S 8-89, 103-104, 236-245, 2J7 
"^Story it; If, The, 97-9S 

Story-teller at Large: Mr. Henry Har- 
lan d, The, 132-133 

Strcthtr, Lambert (The Ambassador*), 
58, 84, 87, 102, i.'j, 168, 183, 185, 
1S6, 194, 2i(5, 218-235, 238, 270 
• Striker, Mr. (Roderick Hudson), 117 

Stringham, Mrs. (The Wings of the 
Dove), i), 14 

Tarrant, Verena (The Bostonians), 177 
Thealc, Milly (The Wings of the Dove), 

8, 9, 10, ii, 12, 13, 14, 15, 98, 102, 

105, 142, 144, 153, 168, 1 8 j, 186, 

193, 216, 238, 276 
Thcltre Francais, essay on, 2 
Tragic Muse, The, 82, 90, 96, 97, 101, 

'77, 178. >79i 180, 182, 223, 225 
Tristram, Mrs. Tom (The American), 

i 4 5 
Tristram, Tom (The American), 108, 

Turgcnev, Ivan, essay on, 2, 114, 
Turn of tin bcreM f The, 9b, 107. Uii 

1 1-5, 160-165, {66, n>7, tr>9, 170, 

171, 1 So, 183, 261, 269 

Upjohn, Kitty (The American), 109 

Vanderbank, Mr. (The Awkward Age), 

16, 19 
Vawdrey, Clare (The Private Life), 204- 

Vercker, Hugh (The Figure in the Car- 

/"'). 75". 92, 93. 94. 99. 123. «*4p 

Vervcr, Adam (The Golden Bowl), 80, 

88-89, 9°. 104. I2 J, 236-245, 277 
Vervcr, Maggie (The Golden Bowl), 88, 

89, 90, 103, 185, 194, 216, 236-245, 

262, 277 
Vetch, Flcda (The Spoils of Poynton), 

96, 98, 101, 102-103 
Vionnct, Madame dc (The Ambassadors), 

36, 84, ioz, 126, 220, 223, 229, 230, 

231, 232, 234, 235 
Voyt, Colonel (The Story in It), $7 

VWalsingham, Guy (The Death of the 
Lion), 207 

Washington Square, 30, 120, 259 

Waymarsh, Mr. (The Ambassadors), 
219, 232 

Wentworths, the (The Europeans), 3, 

Wcstgate, Mr. (An International Epi- 
sode), 144 

Wcstgate, Mrs. (Am International Epi- 
sode), 142, 143 

What Maisie Knew, xi, 90, 180, 181, 

William Wetmore Story and His Friends, 
31, 34, 134, 136, 183 

Wimbush, Mrs. (The Death of the 
Lion), 206-207 

Wings of the Dove, The, 8, 9, 10, 11, 
12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 23, 24, 35, 88, 
98, 102, 103, 126, 142, 144, 153, 154, 
168, 179, 182, 185, 186, 192, 193, 
216, 237, 238, 257, 275, 276 

Wintcrbourne, Frederick (Daisy Miller), 


Young, Felix (The Europeans), 145 



Date Due .! 





MAY 2 5 i*8fl 

APR i » 1988 








cm' 1 ' 














The question of Henry James; main 

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